- Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess
Hutchinson, 650 pp, £6.95, October 1980, ISBN 0 09 143910 8
By the time I had reached the end of this novel I had accumulated enough notes to make a modest book: a fact that bears witness to the sheer density of the writing, as well as the seriousness of its concern. It is unwise to skim. Only in retrospect can you identify what could safely have been skipped as supererogatory or duplicate. Since complaints will follow – grave matters incur grave complaint – let me say at the outset that Earthly Powers carries greater intellectual substance, more power and grim humour, more knowledge, than ten average novels put together.
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[*] Something similar, though milder, is to be found in Private Pictures (Cape, 84 pp., £.8.50 and £4.95, 2 October, 0 224 01846 9), a collection of photographs by Daniel Angeli and Jean-Paul Dousset of ‘the stars off their guard: the stars naked – sometimes literally so’. Milder in that Sinatra’s yawn is totally frank, Farrah Fawcett jogs unexceptionably, Dirk Bogarde searches the newspaper racks like a serious-minded reader, Prince Philip enjoys his pint, the Queen Mother in the wind is a pleasing figure, Marlene Dietrich has aged pretty well, Romy Schneider’s buttocks are acceptable enough – if that’s what you want – and while Bardot’s bosom droops a little, it droops under its own weight. It is reassuring to note that famous ladies often wear a cross dangling between their breasts, and that male celebrities – but enough. Yet in his introduction Anthony Burgess contends that one of the punishments of fame is ‘a book like this, with its brilliant craft of exposure. It lays on the whips ... The extraordinary are revealed as terribly ordinary, and there is no diviner punishment than that.’ Surely God can do better?