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Earthly Powers (Vintage Classics) Paperback – 6 May 2004
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"Crowded, crammed, bursting with manic erudition, garlicky puns, omnilingual jokes... which meshes the real and personalised history of the twentieth century" (Martin Amis)
"Burgess is the great postmodern storehouse of British writing-an important experimentalist; an encyclopaedic amasser, but also a maker of form; a playful comic, with a dark gloom" (Malcolm Bradbury)
"Enormous imagination and vitality - a huge book in every way" (Sunday Times)
"A hellfire tract thrown down by a novelist at the peak of his powers" (The Times)
"In all ways, a remarkable book" (Paul Theroux)
Rollicking, panoramic epic of 20th century by the author of 'A Clockwork Orange'See all Product description
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Top customer reviews
First thing for me, though, is that the book combines the intellectual rewards of "serious" lit' with the more popular joys of any "thumping good read"! Critical analysis can be (and probably has been) made in great depth, if you're so inclined, from the thematics of the plot to close exegesis of the imagery, the syntax, the sound, the intricacies and subtleties of the prose: polymath Burgess is certainly up to any level of detailed appreciation, being more than capable in that area himself. But this is so much more than just a "clever-clever" exercise. Burgess rejoices in language as the virtuoso rejoices in musicianship: that is, he makes brilliance and insight accessible, entertaining and enlightening with the same effortless, but technically expert and hard-won, ease as Mozart or Shakespeare.
So there's that erudite, piquant, moving, hilarious voice to recommend Earthly Powers, just for starters. Then consider the story: well, it's about Good and Evil in the Twentieth Century, right? OK, it's about the Devil and his possession, at some time or other, of just about anyone who ever tried to do right, let alone the weak and downright villainous. Satan is even shown to act - and occasionally speak, if you pay attention - through the "author" himself .
This narrator, Kenneth Toomey, is what Earthly Powers is "about" on the simplest level: his outrageous cultural, religious, literary and sexual adventures amongst the movers and shakers, fictitious and real, of the modern age. The Toomey persona is clearly close to Burgess in many ways - he's witty, self-deprecating, eloquent, tortured, magnanimous, irascible. Very "real," then; but also brilliantly imagined - witness more than one glib critic being fooled into writing of Burgess as "homosexual" (wrong) on the strength of this most convincing of personae.
Earthly Powers is exciting and entertaining in so many ways, from sheer quality of authorship through to scope of plot and impact of incident. Lovely characters, too. It has true and important things to say about human behaviour; profound messages about love, respect and inhumanity. Please read it.
PS. Ignore the Introduction in this edition, though - he gets it wrong!
Earthly Powers has two main themes; catholicism and homosexuality, but they are just the vehicle Burgess uses to explore the human condition. From the misery of the First World War to the vacuity of the eighties, our hero Ken Toomey turns up at some of modern history's most fascinating moments; rubbing shoulders with with its leading figures and sketching for us their all too human foibles and failings. Fact and fiction merge beautifully to weave a wonderful yarn that is witty, warm and wonderful - as well as alternatingly dark and hilarious.
Why nobody has turned this into a film script is beyond me. But I'm kind of glad they haven't.
A tour de force by an erudite and fluent author; he has structured a framework of individual lives and relationships within which he has opened to examination some of the fundamental contradictions of Catholicism and Christian religion. If God is all seeing and knowing how can he permit such horrors? If he gave all his creation free will then how is it no-one feels free? But these comments just touch the surface of a momentous work. Then I also found it self indulgent and exclusive. Exclusive? because I think he wrote this as much for himself and a small coterie of scholars as any ordinary reader such as myself. I believe I am well read and reasonably literate, but I often stopped at words that I had never come across before, so I wrote them down in a little note book to check their meaning later. This disturbed the rhythm of the text for me and I think such boasting of vocabulary unnecessary. Also his passages on a continent -Africa - I think he has never visited (apart from North Africa - the Muslim Territories) - were wholly unreal and naïve, and for me an uncalled for diversion. Finally; I tried to imagine the effort it must take to create such a work, and can only respond with awe and respect at the energy, talent, scholarship and breadth of knowledge Mr Burgess was able to bring to paper. This is a work that will last in my memory and demand I revisit.