Genre-fracturing masterpiece

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Roger Lewis’s coruscating Anthony Burgess has established itself as one of the greatest literary biographies of the last half-century.

On display are exquisite critical taste and judgment, extraordinary depth of understanding, and the rich fruits of a lifetime’s scholarship. Appealing widely to the specialist and layman alike, the work has taken its place with Painter’s on Proust, Edel’s on James, Ellmann’s on Joyce, Brod’s on Kafka and a very few others in the sanctum of masterpieces of the biographer’s art.

Mr Lewis approaches his subject with intense seriousness and concentration, reading everything Burgess read, studying everything he studied, and travelling the world to understand the many places — particularly in Asia — that were so important in the Burgess œuvre.

Screen Shot 2012-10-07 at 21.38.31The rag-bag structure of Mr Lewis’s work is revolutionary. The biography is experimental, chaotic, inebriated, even delirious, dispensing with outworn conventions such as those of chronology, intelligibility or rationality. The biography mimics, satirises, subtly illumines, and truly represents its rollicking subject’s rambunctious life and literary style.

One unexpected and very welcome bonus is that Mr Lewis himself enters the narrative often. Indeed from time to time he takes it over, such that the reader begins to apprehend that Mr Lewis is in a number of important ways a greater figure than his subject, and certainly better educated.

This major biographer’s masterstroke is to adopt a form that is consonant with the character of this minor novelist. ‘I fractured the genre,’ Mr Lewis has stated. The form matches the content triumphantly, and it cannot be doubted that the way literary biographies are written has changed for ever.

Mr R. Lewis

Mr R. Lewis

 

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Comments

  • Clifford Duffy  On May 20, 2013 at 5:38 am

    After reading that summary I’ve no desire to read such a vindictive and petty biography!

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