Book Review: 'A Dead Man in Deptford' by Anthony Burgess

Hey Readers!

 I guess I am now on my summer holidays. But I won't do my end of year post just yet due to the way school ended: it kind of dissolved into nothing. Technically the last day of school is tomorrow, so I shall do that post at the weekend. For now, I shall do a quick book review (my laptop has 17% battery).

 As none of my friends (or indeed anyone who has mentioned anything to do with books near me) have been able to escape my gushing speeches of love for Burgess, it doesn't seem right that you, my Fair or Foul Readers (but where's the difference?), should either. However I must admit I have only read two of his books - A Clockwork Orange and A Dead Man in Deptford - but I shall be doing a Burgess Binge (dat alliteration) this summer. And when he titles his books like "Mozart and the Wolf Gang" or "1985" (which is a tribute to Orwell's 1984) I feel I can be pretty sure the rest of his writing shall live up to wonders I have already read.

 A Dead Man in Deptford is an re-imagining of Christopher Marlowe's life. Marlowe was a playwright who grew up in Canterbury and studied at Chorpus Christi College, Cambridge before becoming a playwright, who many critics feel would have outshone Shakespeare, had he not died in a pub brawl with a dagger to eye (don't cha just hate it when that happens???). The image of the eye recurs throughout the book and often sparks musings on solipsism. However Burgess' real point of interest in regards to Marlowe is the more dubious aspects to his life: his addiction to sex and potentially working as a spy for Queen Elizabeth I. 

 Although the book is about Marlowe, it is told through the eyes of an unnamed narrator who didn't witness many of the events in the book. The way Marlowe drifts in and out of his life is sometimes unclear, but I quite like the tone of confused memory this gives the book. The narrator is one of the most interesting aspects of the book, and I feel it places the role of the author as one of the central questions of the book (Barthes would not be happy), especially in terms of how historical fiction influences our understanding of past events. And then there is the last paragraph, but I don't want to give away the ending because you are all going to go and read this book.

 As always the Burgess, his use of language is simply divine. He writes in a way that forces the words off of the page and into your imagination. You have to sit up and take notice. The opening paragraph is more opaque than the majority of the book, so don't be put off. Instead, spend some time just admiring how he mingles poetic techniques with prose. Burgess also presents speech in a different style to that which we may be used to: speech always begins on a new line, is indicated by a '–' and it is not clear when the speaker finishes. This was alienating at first, but in true Burgess style, this alienation makes you part of the book's world, by clearly differentiating it from our own.

 In short, this is a truly fabulous book by a truly fabulous writer. Probably not that great if you're a raging homophobic as a lot of the sex takes place between Marlowe and other men (sometimes in Latin which led to a fun hour of translation). However you do have to pay attention when you read it, there are a lot of characters and the relationships between them are not entirely clear if you zone out for a moment. But if you are zoned in, as you should be you diligent reader you, then I promise you will have a most pleasurable reading experience when reading this book. 

Rating: *****