Burgess’s Honey for the Bears

I recently finished reading Honey for the Bears, by Anthony Burgess. Of course his most famous work by far is A Clockwork Orange, although his other writing is highly regarded – and I have to say, Bears was an excellent read, highly recommended, and not just because it has words like “sphingine” (resembling a sphinx).

Still, for me, Burgess falls into a certain category of writers – they are, despite an extensive bibliography, known mainly for one novel, and for whatever reason, I have a difficult time reading outside their one famous work.  This group includes Kingsley Amis, David Lodge, John Wain, Muriel Spark, and (perhaps to a lesser extent) George Orwell. I have started and failed to finish the Enderby novels, Down and Out in Paris and London, and The Anti-Death League. Sometimes the beginning is slow or ungripping – it was a bit of work for me to get through the first few chapters of Honey for the Bears, for example. Other times, the middle parts start to drag. A few middle chapters in One Fat Englishman were a slog.

I am not sure how to classify this phenomenon. Maybe it is just a British thing – could it be I am an insufficient Anglophile? I do recall one of my English professors, the great Dr. Phillip Parotti, once saying he had similar difficulties at first getting through Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead, but that American doorstop didn’t give me any problems. Perhaps I am that annoying fanboy who knows Sir Alec only as Obi-Wan Kenobi. Could that be true, even though I watched the whole of the original The Ladykillers (over the course of a few days)?


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