This week on Wednesday’s literature piece we will continue with Anthony Burgess’s panamoramic saga novel of the 20th century Earthly Powers. The novel appeared on the shortlist for the Booker Prize in the year of its publication but lost out to William Golding’s Rites of Passage. In an October 2006 poll in The Observer, it was named joint third for the best work of British and Commonwealth fiction of the last 25 years.
On The International Anthony Burgess Foundation page Burgess wrote about his motivation to write Earthly Powers:
‘I’m no theologian. All I can do as a novelist is present situations which perhaps theologians can explain, although I doubt it. What I’ve tried to do is to invent characters typical of our age – British, American, Italian, German, black, white, brown – and show them in moral dilemmas damnably hard to resolve. At the same time I try to show the twentieth-century moral situation from the end of the Great War onwards. My Italian priest-bishop-pope believes that God is good, that God made man in his own image, that therefore man is good. Even the Jew-killing SS officer he captures and tries to bring back to the light is, according to his theology, good. It is the devil who causes evil: he gets into us and we have to exorcise him. But suppose a good act, a miraculous saving of life, produces great evil? This is not a question my pope character has to consider, since he is dead when it is asked about his own miracle, and he is on his way to becoming a saint. But what is a saint? There are saints in the story whom the world would call sinners.
I have, I see, said nothing about the novel. Certainly the above lame summary is no substitute for reading it. For me it is rather like trying to summarize the content of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony. A novel is a novel, a work of craft or art, a structure, a big meal that can’t be turned into a vitamin capsule.’
Today’s short, yet amusing excerpt which I pertly titled ‘A Snorer is Outsnoored‘ is from writer and protagonist Kenneth Toomey recalling a short story he has written. It’s a little on the cheeky side, but it made me chuckle. I hope you enjoy it likewise: