Novelist and critic Burgess was a polymath, a man with immense stores of erudition on history, music, art, religion, philosophy - whatever caught his fancy and lodged in his very capacious mind. He also had a good journalist's knack of being able to write to order, swiftly and interestingly, on a multitude of topics. So in this collection of occasional pieces published in the last two decades of his life, he ruminates on subjects as various as Margaret Thatcher, Yeats, Ravel, Sir Walter Scott, his own Clockwork Orange (which came to haunt him, as did the celebrated movie version that was derived, he says, from the inferior American edition that lacked his own final chapter), his youth in Manchester, the British royal family and the temperament of the French. Many of these pieces may have been written in haste, but they do not show it: Burgess is always alert, well informed and infinitely readable. One of the themes running through the collection is his regret at having to spend so much time and effort at the sort of writing that pays the bills rather than at his preferred fiction. Much to his amused disgust, he came to be regarded more as a critic than as a novelist - though he was no mean practitioner of either art.
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