This was the last novel written by Burgess before his death in 1994. Other great novels by this accomplished novelist include his first, the Malaysian Trilogy, A Clockwork Orange, The four Enderby novels, One Hand Clapping and what I consider to be his masterpiece, Earthly Powers.
This book is a fictionalised account of the life of Christopher Marlowe who wrote the plays Tamburlaine, Faustus, The Jew of Malta and Edward II; there is a suggestion in the book that he collaborated with a young Shakespeare on Henry VI part 1.
It is narrated by a young actor, who is blatantly not present for much of the action but doesn't actually enter much into the action which seems a rather pointless device. It is also written in Elizabethan English, spelt modern-wise in dialogue but Elizabethan-style when quoting written texts (eg the plays); this is sometimes a little difficult to understand (Burgess makes up a language in A Clockwork Orange called Nadsat based on Russian slang which is easier to read than this; my favourite example of an author immersing you in the language of a bygone age is Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd). There is a lot made of the fact that names are flexible, thus Marlowe is often turned into Marley or Merlin.
The life of Kit Marlowe offers a fascinating plot. He was an atheist and sodomite at at time when both of these were capital offences. He wrote world class plays and was an honourable predecessor to Shakespeare. He spied for Francis Walsingham (which might explain how he got away with the sodomy and atheism for so long) and was killed (murdered?) is a brawl in a tavern in Deptford. Burgess turns this is into a classic novel but I think something a little easier to read and slightly faster paced might have been even more exciting.
Nevertheless, every Burgess is a masterpiece. May 2015; 269 pages
- Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57