50 years of ultra-violence


A Clockwork Orange sits awkwardly in this schema. It is a cusp novel. Chronologically it belongs to Early Burgess, but stylistically it resembles the middle novels. In this sense it was an important departure. (Inside Mr Enderby (1963), Burgess’s best-loved comic novel, occupies a liminal position similar to A Clockwork Orange. Both share an animating fascination with excess of all kinds, and both find the perfect stylistic expression for this in obsessive wordplay. And both are very funny.) The novels of the middle period are Burgess’s most vital because it was in these that he forged what we might now recognize as the Burgessian – the antic puns and wordplay, the etymological digressions, the opacity, the glamorous pedantry, the tympanic repetitions, and an alliterative, assonantal musicality that makes every sentence seem vivid and extrovert: “Seafood salt with savour of seabrine thwacking throat with thriving wine-thirst”; “the lucent flawlessness of the skin, of the long fleshly languor that flowered into visibility”; “he was in a manner tricked, coney-caught, a court-dor to a cozening cotquean”. This is Burgess’s description of an Elizabethan brothel: “He entered darkness that smelled of musk and dust, the tang of sweating oxters, and, somehow, the ancient stale reek of egg after egg cracked in waste, the musty hold-smell of seamen’s garments, seamen’s semen spattered, a ghost procession of dead sailors lusting till the crack of doom”.

more from Ben Masters at the TLS here.