An extraordinary autobiography.
Prior to reading this, the only other book I'd read by Anthony Burgess was "A Clockwork Orange". I was inspired to read this book, having come across a short extract, photocopied and framed on the wall of The Wheatsheaf pub in Rathbone Place, London. Anthony Burgess was once a customer and he was describing the era in the 1940s when both he and Julian Maclaren-Ross were regulars. As a great admirer of Julian Maclaren-Ross, it was a desire to read this particular section (probably only six or seven pages in total) that prompted me to read it. I should add that Burgess was gratifyingly complimentary about the work of Maclaren-Ross and brings that era beautifully to life.
"Little Wilson and Big God" is only the first part of a two part biography and covers the 42 years from Burgess’s birth, in 1917, to 1959, when his time as teacher and education officer in Malaya and Brunei came to an end and he decide to devote himself to writing full time (believing he only had a year to live).
Burgess was clearly very bright and something of a polymath. He taught himself languages and wrote classical music in addition to gaining scholarships and doing well at school. Despite this he was also something of a slacker as a young man, drifting through the war, and then into teaching in Malaya and Brunei. He and his wife had an open relationship from the off, and he appears to be very honest about his conduct which was frequently drunken and idiosyncratic. He has a trove of great memories.
I found the whole book engrossing as he vividly recreated the Manchester of his boyhood; life in the army during the war with all its attendant pettiness and absurdities; and his various eccentricities, and onto ever more outrageous behaviour as an observant if unorthodox expat during the fag end of British colonialism.
His writing style is flamboyant and sophisticated, and required a few stops to consult the dictionary, and I felt I was in the hands of a great writer at the top of his game.
I eagerly anticipate the second part "You've Had Your Time".
I have also bought "The Complete Enderby" too. This feels like the start of a beautiful relationship.