Sunday, October 30, 2005

Burgess Biographied

As for what remains, a dozen years after Burgess's death, and the prospects for his reputation, I kept thinking of some momentous, long-ago explosion, far out to sea, whose debris, even now, continues to wash fitfully up upon the lone, lorn 21st-century sands.
D J Taylor reviews Andrew Biswell's The Real Life of Anthony Burgess * in the Independent. It's a book I very much want to read, especially after having read Burgess' own biographies, Little Wilson and Big God and You've Had Your Time.

I am an unashamed lover of Burgess as I've said before. I actually chose to be posted to Kuala Kangsar in the '80's because I'd so enjoyed his trilogy and I guess that I was on my own little mission to try to understand him and the Malaya he painted. The town did not disappoint. It had more than its share of remarkable, eccentric characters. The Ubudiah mosque was still "as bulbous as a clutch of onions" and I became a paid-up bar-propping member of the Iblis (oops, sorry the Idris) Club .

But the school where he taught (MCKK) had completely forgotten him. There wasn't a copy of a single one of his books in the library. No plaque on the wall. I pondered on whether this was the result of an embarrassed silence (although Burgess had been even-handedly rude about all the races including the British in his writing) or genuine ignorance and indifference. Concluded the latter.

And of course there is the perfectly understandable desire to shed whatever remnants of the colonial legacy still persist. Merdeka wasn't struggled for for nothing and it isn't PC to honour a British writer. Never mind that he was arguably one of the most important literary figures of the C20th.

And in a the three and a half years I lived there, I met only one person who had known him personally. (Though years later, reading the autobiography, Abu suddenly recalled his housemaster Mr. Wilson ...).

I found this piece written by Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad recently. It gives, I think another perspective.

* You can win a copy of the new biography in a competition on the Anthony Burgess website.


bibliobibuli said...

Not dedication. Obsession.

And thanks!

Mag said...

Just wanted to drop a line - I'm impressed by your dedication, keep it up!


boo_licious said...

Hi Sharon, Just want to wish you good luck for Nanowrimo. Go forth and churn out those 50,000 words!

__earth said...

I bet on the latter too. I dare say that if we were to ask any current teacher or student back at MC, they probably don't even know who Burgess is, except for the few that read (there are always the few that read at every school, I think) or some very ancient teachers.

Damn, I do feel MC should have the Malayan Trilogy as part of compulsory reading for literature class or some sort. (During my time, there was no lit. class for English though I think we had to read that thick Sejarah Melayu - not sure whether I'm blessed or cursed)

bibliobibuli said...

boolicious - thanks!

_earth - you're mckk too?? I asked all the teacher when i ws there and even the oldest professed not to know who Burgess was ... I think the trilogy is good reading for anyone here - there's so much room for debate about how the country is portrayed ...

Anonymous said...

Not my cup of tea, unfortunately. But I might check it out.

__earth said...

I was there for a short while. Graduated in 99.

How was KK in the 80s?

I reckon it should be bustling with, er, life, as it was in the late 90s.

bibliobibuli said...

_earth - intersting place, yes ... i still have plenty of stories to tell ...