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Earthly Powers (Burgess, Anthony) Paperback – November 18, 1993

4.5 out of 5 stars 45 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Burgess's ambitious study of 20th-century history centers on the stormy relationship between an effete, popular novelist and a Faustian priest.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"Crowded, crammed, bursting with manic erudition, garlicky puns, omnilingual jokes... which meshes the real and personalised history of the twentieth century" -- Martin Amis "Burgess is the great postmodern storehouse of British writing-an important experimentalist; an encyclopaedic amasser, but also a maker of form; a playful comic, with a dark gloom" -- Malcolm Bradbury "Enormous imagination and vitality - a huge book in every way" Sunday Times "A hellfire tract thrown down by a novelist at the peak of his powers" The Times "In all ways, a remarkable book" -- Paul Theroux --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Burgess, Anthony
  • Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Carroll & Graf (November 18, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786700262
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786700264
  • Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,491,187 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Burgess's 1980 EARTHLY POWERS, like Styron's SOPHIE'S CHOICE(published around the same time), hearkens back to the grand 19th century novels of Dickens, Balzac, and Galdos. It is a novel the reader enters and inhabits, a world of its own.
Kenneth Toomey, supposedly modeled on Somerset Maugham, is a middling range popular novelist who finds himself in the midst of some of the great literary and social maelstroms of the twentieth century. He knows everyone - Churchill, James Joyce, John Maynard Keynes; you name them, Toomey has sipped tea with them - and gets involved with everything - censorship trials and ancient voodoo, for instance; he even has a brush with the Jim Jones cult through one of his nieces.
Critics carped at the book for its lack of focus, but it has a definite focus: the twentieth century. Toomey's not a great artist, but he is a great observer, and through him Burgess gives us the full sweep of the twentieth century, its follies and its glories (but more folly than glory). In the past, English literature has had an Age of Shakespeare and an Age of Johnson. In the future critics and historians will judge the late twentieth century as the Age of Burgess. EARTHLY POWERS will help solidify that certainty.
Read it.
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By A Customer on May 9, 2001
Format: Paperback
I rate this Burgess' best novel, having bought it at least three times! It's a big, heavy book, so I take it to the beach it, read it, and bin it before leaving, to save luggage weight. Then I realise I need to reread it...
Burgess' narrator namedrops his way shamelessly through the twentieth century as he tells the story of his own life and the intertwined fortunes of his brother-in-law, Carlo Campanati, a Catholic priest whose dearest ambition is to "make Pope". It's a huge sweep of history and human times to cover, but Burgess centres it around faith, duty, and home, and makes it look easy.
One warning: he is *very* erudite, so you'll need a dictionary at times. I reckon I have a good vocabulary, but I had no idea what a "venerean strabismus" was. It's up there with "Brideshead Revisited" as a "foodie" book too. One of the beaches I read this on was in Goa, and I was gagging for the Italian meatballs and "cold, black wine" which I couldn't get over there!
Stylistically it's self-conscious; the narrator intervenes frequently to remind you he's writing his autobiography. It's not a major problem, and in fact it's necessary. The first time you notice this is the absolutely show-stopping opening paragraph involving archbishops and catamites (reach for your dictionary if you don't know)...!
Did I mention this book is frequently very, very funny? I cried laughing at the later scenes featuring the shoplifting bisexual Nazi.
Warmly recommended; just don't expect Clockwork Orange!
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Format: Paperback
...First thing for me, though, is that the book combines the intellectual rewards of "serious" lit' with the more popular joys of any "thumping good read"! Critical analysis can be (and probably has been) made in great depth, if you're so inclined, from the thematics of the plot to close exegesis of the imagery, the syntax, the sound, the intricacies and subtleties of the prose: polymath Burgess is certainly up to any level of detailed appreciation, being more than capable in that area himself. But this is so much more than just a "clever-clever" exercise. Burgess rejoices in language as the virtuoso rejoices in musicianship: that is, he makes brilliance and insight accessible, entertaining and enlightening with the same effortless, but technically expert and hard-won, ease as Mozart or Shakespeare.
So there's that erudite, piquant, moving, hilarious voice to recommend Earthly Powers, just for starters. Then consider the story: well, it's about Good and Evil in the Twentieth Century, right? OK, it's about the Devil and his possession, at some time or other, of just about anyone who ever tried to do right, let alone the weak and downright villainous. Satan is even shown to act - and occasionally speak, if you pay attention - through the "author" himself .
This narrator, Kenneth Toomey, is what Earthly Powers is "about" on the simplest level: his outrageous cultural, religious, literary and sexual adventures amongst the movers and shakers, fictitious and real, of the modern age. The Toomey persona is clearly close to Burgess in many ways - he's witty, self-deprecating, eloquent, tortured, magnanimous, irascible.
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Format: Paperback
This novel, Earthly Powers, by Anthony Burgess from 1980 strips bare the twentienth century and turns its skeleton into a wonderful narrative stream inhabited by two beautifully realized characters, Kenneth Toomey, novelist, and Don Carlo, eventually the Pope. Everyone and everything of importance in the last century becomes a part of the mix without ever clogging the story, which remains clearly focused with the clever use of the fictional creations. This book is an epic that truly deserves that title and it will give the reader many hours to reading pleasure. A wonderful reading experience.
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