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Earthly Powers (1980)

by Anthony Burgess

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
1,780379,459 (4.19)3 / 180
Earthly Powers traces eighty- one years in the life of a Somerset Maugham- type writer and lapsed Catholic called Kenneth Toomey. A popular, second- rate novelist/playwright, he spends a lifetime unsuccessfully trying to reconcile his homosexuality with his faith. This is also the story of Carlo Campanati, an earthy Italian priest linked with Toomey through family ties. With dazzlingly inventive narrative spanning six decades, Burgess draws in major events and characters of the century while exploring themes of universal significance.… (more)
  1. 10
    Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (ZenonRobledo)
    ZenonRobledo: I have the feeling Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess inspired David Mitchell when writing Cloud Atlas. Anyone else have thoughts on the matter?
  2. 00
    Fifth Business by Robertson Davies (cf66)
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» See also 180 mentions

English (32)  Dutch (2)  Spanish (1)  Catalan (1)  German (1)  All languages (37)
Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
Great. ( )
  MylesKesten | Jan 23, 2024 |
In 2019 and beyond, you will either like Burgess or you will very much not like Burgess. I tire easily of many of the verbose old anti-establishment-but-really-part-of-the-establishment white men of late 20th century fiction (Amis, for instance, sometimes Roth, even Pynchon). But then there are others like Mailer whom I adore. Burgess must fit into the latter category.

Still, I am a member of my generation, and can't fully pretend that the length and precocity of the novel are justified! A piece of worth, but which nevertheless has been overvalued. ( )
  therebelprince | Oct 24, 2023 |
In a way this book serves as an indictment of the last thirty years of gay literature. If a story could be published in 1980 featuring a man who was openly gay from World War One right through the rest of his life, why are we still subjected to so many narratives in which characters spend most or all of their time in the closet? Although not all writers can be expected to have the courage of Burgess, I look forward to the day when gay writers move on from regarding coming out as the peak gay experience.

As well as courage, this book is full of wit, style, insightful characterisation and intellectual challenge. It's something of a shame that a portion of this intellectual challenge failed to really engage me as it focuses on questions regarding the role of the Catholic church, Christianity and religion in the modern world. As an atheist born and raised, I am comfortable with my answers to these questions (none, none and none), but I did find stimulation in many other ideas relating to family, sexuality, art and purpose.

The reader is effortlessly and repeatedly charmed and then pushed back to arms length using all of the tools of the postmodern first person narrator. This is a finely balanced and dangerous trick, of course, and while passages of this book are absolutely wonderful - simultaneously playful and affecting - there are also some passages that I found flat, unnecessary or irrelevant, particularly in the latter half of the book. It is definitely at its best in the first third when the story is at its most preposterous and the narrator is at his most combative and frank.

This will go on the list of my favourite four star books - not quite sublime, but dearly loved.

Oh, and without wanting to sound pedantic, the Amazon Kindle edition of this book is a bit of a dog's breakfast. It has clearly been scanned from the text and many of the mistakes of the software remain (joining "ci" and "cl" into d, so that I'm not sure you ever see "clothes", only "dothes"; extraneous commas that the author could never have intended; etc). The consequence of this is that a reader is never quite sure whether an irregularity (eg. two words joined together) is for stylistic reasons or just as a result of technology failure. ( )
  robfwalter | Jul 31, 2023 |
An astonishing tour de force that starts off as a kind of reworked biography of Somerset Maugham but soon morphs into the most incredible criticism of belief and the workings of miracle. Everything ties together superbly, and as a guide to an alternative-but-real 20th century this cannot be easily bettered. ( )
  soylentgreen23 | Mar 17, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
Burgess sees artistic creation as man’s only god-like act, which is appropriate in a book whose twin themes are art and evil. Toomey, of course, is the most sterile kind of artist – pretentious and pitifully transparent – and Burgess has great parodic fun with his efforts: lush period epics, doomed libretti, catchy doggerel for stage musicals, a sentimental homosexual rewrite of the creation myth, even a theological work on the nature of evil (written in collusion with his relative Carlo Campanati, a Vatican high-up who later ‘makes Pope’). As Toomey begins the act of creation, he experiences a divine confidence; as the work takes shape, he feels himself already falling short, as earthly compromise and contingency closes in on the pristine dream. What is intended as radical and pure becomes tainted and familiar.

In a sense, though, Earthly Powers belongs to Toomey as well as to Burgess, It is a considerable achievement, spacious and intricate in design, wonderfully sustained in its execution, and full of a weary generosity for the errant world it recreates. As a form, the long novel is inevitably flawed and approximate; and this book contains plenty of hollow places beneath its busy verbal surface. But whatever its human limits it shows an author who has reached the height of his earthly powers.
added by SnootyBaronet | editNew York Times, Martin Amis
 

» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Anthony Burgessprimary authorall editionscalculated
Krege, WolfgangTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.
Quotations
"These young people," said His Grace. And then, prodding my ribs very familiarly: "No hurry, I say. But still please regard the matter as urgent." One of those contradictions that come easily to the religious mind, God being quite as large as Walt Whitman.
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Wikipedia in English (1)

Earthly Powers traces eighty- one years in the life of a Somerset Maugham- type writer and lapsed Catholic called Kenneth Toomey. A popular, second- rate novelist/playwright, he spends a lifetime unsuccessfully trying to reconcile his homosexuality with his faith. This is also the story of Carlo Campanati, an earthy Italian priest linked with Toomey through family ties. With dazzlingly inventive narrative spanning six decades, Burgess draws in major events and characters of the century while exploring themes of universal significance.

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Legacy Library: Anthony Burgess

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