0 Little Wilson and Big God Anthony Burgess (Heinemann £12.95) Anthony Burgess does not pee; he micturates. This is not an example of his lavatorial sense of humour but his interest in language. He is drunk on words and this Bible-thick first volume of memoirs is testimony to his prodigious vocabulary. A rapacious autodidact, Burgess does not hog his learning, he parades it like a hat at Ascot; we might wonder why he uses words like stichomythia, proleptic or dysmenorrhoea but we can‘t help but admire his gall for tryingthem on. '
This is not, then, a book for the faint-hearted. Burgess is an unabashed intellectual who now realises he is more hymned abroad than at home. ‘I have always been better appreciated by foreigners,‘ he says ruefully. This is sad but in a way inevitable. He is a risk-taker, in his work and. by his own account, in his life and this does not endear him to a nation of conservatives.
He was born a Mancunian, a fact of which he is proud, and a Catholic - about which he is more ambivalent. He was christened .lohn Burgess Wilson, his middle name coming from the mother he ‘never knew‘ who early succumbed to a Spanish bug. His father blighted his troth and gave young Jack an obese stepmother who, luckily perhaps, never tried to smother him with
He was a precocious boy, winning sundry prizes for drawing, writing and song lyrics but he had a dismal academic record, due largely to inadequate tuition. His sexual education was more satisfactory, particularly after he had been taken in hand by a WEA tutor. Between bouts of guilt he seems to have visited more bedrooms than a busy chambermaid and, consequently, there is much straight talk about sex and prophylactics. His descriptions are vivid, tender and hilarious and prove his own theory that ‘literature
is all, or mostly, about sex.’ Only occasionally are there hints of Burgess’s much-vaunted male chauvinism and feminists will undoubtedly fume over such aphoristic asides as, ‘love was only a durable fire if the man was there to fill the coal scuttle.’ But for many servicemen cuckolded by 615 (‘One Yank and they’re down.’) this seemed a ligitimate grievance; what most conveniently overlooked was
their own gone-awry (and often gonorrhoeal) faithfulness. Burgess himselfcould hardly complain, for his marriage to Lynne allowed for all manner ofextra-marital hanky-panky, she performing with sundry Soho regulars including her fellow dipsomaniac Dylan Thomas who, according to Burgess. ‘was usually too soused to perform and, when not soused, he foresaw his morning’s guilt and was inhibited.’ Burgess continued to board all-comers but after an inglorious war, spent partly at Newbattle Abbey in Midlothian, he set about establishing himself in civvy street. While not abandoning his ambition as composer he completed his first novel. A Vision ofBattlement, in six weeks, which was eventually published in 1965, and made a tentative start to a teaching career. Soon, however, he and Lynne
Burgess: “I have always been better appr€CIat€d by foreigners.”
emigrated to Malaysia where he wrote his first published novel and where he collapsed in class. The prognosis was a brain tumour and though he didn‘t believe it he resigned himself to the sentence. One year to live. ‘I would have to turn myself into a professional writer,‘ he thought, and put a piece of paper in the typewriter. ‘ “I‘d better start,“ I said.’ Thank heavens he did and still does. (Alan Taylor)
0 Orson Welles Barbara Leaming (Penguin £4.95) Anecdotal, affectionate, wide-ranging, insighful and vividly personal, this is a splendid biography ofthe man Martin Scorsese credits for ‘inSpiring more people to be film directors than anyone else in the history of the cinema.‘
Writing with Welles‘s blessing, Leaming works her search for the elusive, multi-faceted personality of the ‘Boy Wonder‘ into her narrative structure in much the same manner as the reporter seeking the meaning of Rosebud in Citizen Kane and the result is a unique and revealing portrait ofa prodigioust talented and contradictory world~class artist. Highly recommended.
(Allan Hunter) 0 The lees and Times of Jerry Cornelius Michael Moorcock (Harrap £7.95) The prolific Sci-Fi writer Michael Moorcock has revamped this collection ofshort stories, giving his followers a chance to resume relations with Jerry Cornelius, assassin and super-hero. lfyou‘ve not had the pleasure before then the experience may be disturbing, if not distasteful. But there are compensations, lying mainly in Moorcock’s grotesque and fantasical sense of humour. Juxtaposed to the world of big business and computer whizzery is the colour and sound of the Sixties. Clutching his ‘heater’ our Sonic Boom Boy speeds towards his victims, dropping the occasional acid tab to the strains of the Beatles’ ‘Hello Goodbye’.
Jerry‘s adventures, from Mandalay to the Vatican and back to London, lead him from the sublime — Bishop Beesley is sucked up by a computer (‘TASTE' reads the printout) - to the ridiculous, as Jerry finds a necklace of dried ears under his lover‘s pillow. ‘Jealous?’ she asks.
The short stories form one long narrative with the epilogue offering an interesting, if tongue in cheek discourse on the ‘new fiction’. Moorcock’s style is inventive and
42 The List 6- 19 March