Tuesday, December 16, 2008

AB: "Long time no viddy".

A Dispatch from the “Open mouth, disengage brain” department: spotting someone I had not seen in a while on the transfer from the 747 chicken-bus to the terminal, I blurted “Long time no viddy, old droog”. The man seated next to me spun his head so fast it should have hurt. “Anthony Burgess? Clockwork Orange”? You betcha, right in one.

I discovered AB through the film version of that novel. Even back then, I read the credits. Intrigued, I read his other works, and found an author who continued to please, to intrigue, and to make me laugh until the end of his life. A bit of biblio-trivia: the novel, when published in the US, was truncated by one chapter. It had 21 chapters (21: age of adulthood, gedditgeddit?) when published in England; AB’s American editors, to lighten the ending of the novel they said, lopped off the last chapter. AB was furious, and when Kubrick filmed the novel from the American edition, Burgess washed his hands of the project.

The early American edition, truncation notwithstanding, did a very sneaky thing. There was no glossary for the NADSAT slang (read: Russian) so those words (droog, tolchock, kal, grachny brachny, etc.) wormed their way into our vocabulary through context and a bit of slow going in the early stages. My droogs and I had a slang our parents had no clue about. For someone like me, at that age getting caught in the web of words, it was a frabjous day indeed. The modern editions seen do have the glossary, making it ‘easier’ for the reader. I know it is fiction and all, but gee, the reader has to do some sort of work beyond just reading the novel.

AB took pleasure in pointing out the absurdities of daily life (“All illiterates will report to Room 2 for reading instruction” read the note on the Company bulletin board at his duty station on Gibraltar, relayed in the first volume of his autobiography, Little Wilson and Big God), always a good feature in a novelist. I miss him.


Barrett Bonden said...

I raised the subject of AB in a comment to one of Plutarch's posts. Possibly because he came from the other side of the Pennines, I was harder on him than you are. I was impressed by The Clockwork Orange and by The Malayan Trilogy but I was often irritated by his other novels where his ego frequently showed through. This tendency was even more evident in his book reviews and essays which, nevertheless, I always read. In fact I would recommend his enormous collected journalism, Homage to QWERTY, if you haven't seen it. Even so his ego used to get me down. More than once in reviewing books he would reveal that his first act was to scan the index to see if his name appeared. Sometimes his cleverness was unbearable. Thirty or forty years ago Robert Graves, dissatisfied with Fitzgerald's translation of the Rubaiyat, published an improved version (which alas seemed to lose much of the poetry). AB reviewed this, criticised Graves' insensitivity and did his own translation of one or two verses. All very well but since most of us lack a working knowledge of Persian it was impossible to decide who did the better job. I should add that AB's version also lacked much of the poetry.

Relucent Reader said...

Thank you for your comments.
I have not read all of AB's fiction, esp the Enderby tales, as they just don't appeal. I have read his non-fiction, and concur with your assessment.
He was a clever boy, sometimes too clever: he had a trick where he would open a dictionary to a random page, then use arcane or archaic words found on that page in the work he was typing at the time.Too cute.
You mentioned Robert Graves, another author I admire. His "Good-bye to all that" is an autobio. I return to once in a while;his Collected Poems(1975) is one of the few poetry books I have bought of my own accord. He was a better poet than AB.

Plutarch said...

In the process of concurring on AB - "a clever boy" just about sums him up - I note that one of your many favourite books is Honey from the Weed. I think you are the first person I have encountered who knows this book, which I share your liking for. Simple cooking couldn't get much simpler, nor surrounding more enchanting. I didn't know that Robert Graves had translated the Rubayat, but good poet that Robert G was, I would have thought that it was a rash move. The poem seems to me, accurate translation or not, to belong to Fitzgerald, as much as to Omar Kayam.

Relucent Reader said...

Plutarch, thank you for the comments.
I guess as a librarian and lifelong bibliophile I do have too many favorites. I don't know if I could do as the ship captain in Alan Furst's Dark Voyage and keep my library to 40 books.
I stumbled across Honey From A Weed somewhere and special ordered it. Gray's book is unique, and really captures why we cook: hunger, and hunger is part of daily life.