The local bookstore near where I live has mostly books written in Spanish, but there is a classic English Literature section with thousands of titles to choose from. I miss my Kindle e-reader which decided one day it wouldn’t recharge again. So naturally I went back to old-school paperback purchasing. I’m already running out of shelf space.
The last time I went book-browsing I chose a DH Lawrence book and the other I would pick on a whim. I read the back cover of Earthly Powers and I thought – what the heck. I hadn’t heard of the author Anthony Burgess although I probably should have since he wrote ‘A Clockwork Orange’ which was of course adapted to the big screen by Stanley Kubrick.
Upon beginning to read Earthly Powers I was wondering if I had effectively wasted my money since I must have reread the early section at least 3 times having lost my place or beset with a feeling of disaffection for the characters and story. But that was the beginning and like an old Steam locomotive preliminary heating its boiler it was taking its time to get going. But when it’s full steam ahead then anything can happen and such is the case with this colossal novel Earthly Powers.
Anthony Burgess’ dazzling imagination and attention to detail here is extraordinary. It is recognised by Good Reads as his masterpiece and just part way through this novel I can attest I feel blessed to be in the hands of an exceptional writer at the peak of his powers.
Now a smidgeon about the plot..An octogenarian British writer Kenneth Toomey is asked to attest to a miracle that will support canonization of a Pope and writes his memoirs, giving us a personal tour of the 20th-century through his life as a homosexual, lapsed Catholic, successful but mediocre writer, and exile. It examines morality, the nature of evil, the role of religious belief and more. It is said that Earthly Powers is partly based on the life of Somerset Maugham.
For today’s literature excerpt we will see how Burgess writes about the writer Kenneth Toomey discussing how a writer should approach writing. I was left perplexed by the passage because I wondered if Burgess was writing it based on his actual intentions as a writer or if he manufactured it to represent the fictional Kenneth Toomey, as distinct from his ‘own’ views. Upon rereading it, I think Burgess is the voice in Toomey’s head when Toomey questions himself, ‘The novels I’ve written are rather morally conventional. I mean, I present wrongdoing, but the wrongdoing is always rather conventionally punished. Nobody’, I said ‘Gets away with anything in my novels. That worries me sometimes. I mean, the world is not like that.‘ Other excerpts are sure to follow on my blog from this book.