He held firmly to the conviction that a novelist’s primary job – even more important than any matter of form – is to play with language, and that language in itself is quintessentially human: it is slippery, indeterminate and attached to the messy stuff of everyday life. Above all, language is fallen. Appropriately, then, very little in Burgess’s prose is allowed simply to be. A peach is not just a peach, it is “a large mushy globe, maculate with ripeness”, a “rosary sweetness”; Enderby doesn’t take medicine, he takes “a powerful black viscidity that oozed sinisterly from a tube to bring wind up from Tartarean depths”; Napoleon doesn’t merely sit on a chair and look at his companion, he chooses “a gilt bowlegged masterpiece of discomfort and gape[s] up at the clean proud young raised stupid chin”; and Shakespeare doesn’t drink in a pub, he “down[s] it among the titbrained molligolliards of country copulatives”, while observing the “robustious rother in rural rivo rhapsodic”. Sometimes (as here) the results are ridiculous, sometimes they are deliberately funny, and often they are sublime.
Thursday, September 27, 2012
Living for style
At the TLS, Ben Masters on a new edition of The Clockwork Orange. (Speaks to my past teenage obsessive self who has read every single one of Burgess's books!) Here is Masters on Burgess's style: