I just finished reading THE COMPLETE ENDERBY by Anthony Burgess which gathers all four of the novels featuring his character the poet Enderby into one volume.
The four Enderby books are INSIDE MR ENDERBY, ENDERBY OUTSIDE, THE CLOCKWORK TESTAMENT, and ENDERBY’S DARK LADY.
These books are a lot of fun – irreverent, scatological, bawdy, raucous. I laughed out loud a few times and the first two books in particular dump misadventure after misadventure on poor Enderby who writes his poetry on the toilet and at the beginning of the first book scrapes by on money left to him by his stepmother although his financial state changes throughout the books as he goes from London to Morocco to New York City to Indiana.
The first book, INSIDE MR ENDERBY, is the best. ENDERBY OUTSIDE like any sequel starts off at an automatically lower position but it’s also good and plays out the earlier book’s narrative in a way that makes sense to the reader. The third book, THE CLOCKWORK TREATMENT, is more like a long short story or a novella and ends with Enderby dying of a heart attack. However, he comes back for the fourth and least interesting book ENDERBY’S DARK LADY (although I like the ongoing story within a story that both begins and ends it).
What I like most about the first book is the discussions of how poet operates-how the muse can strike him anywhere, how he builds on one small idea, a handful of phrases to produce a poem. The poetry Burgess has written to show Enderby as a poet is actually quite good and not only does he produce poetry in the guise of a character with a voice that is unique and identifiable with that character. He also shows how the character’s poetry has grown over time.
It is also worth noting that he shows how writing, not just putting words on paper, but pursuing your own vision as a writer (even if it doesn’t pay in the monetary sense) is key to making an imprint, establishing your voice, and evolving as a writer/poet. The fact that Enderby when we first meet him is not that interested in any sort of sexual relationship (despite several women throwing themselves at him) indicates how much poetry has consumed him and how much little he has left.
One great thing about Anthony Burgess was despite being a polymath who spoke numerous languages, wrote symphonies, did translation work, etc., he had a vulgar, earthy side to him which is never far from view in these books. All the better for something that on the surface seems very removed from most people’s interests these days which is unfortunately what poetry has become. Through Enderby, Burgess opens up poetry for everyone