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Earthly Powers

4.15  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,906 Ratings  ·  140 Reviews
In "Earthly Powers" Burgess created his masterpiece. At its center are two twentieth-century men who represent different kinds of power--Kenneth Toomey, a past-his-prime author of mediocre fiction, a man who has outlived his contemporaries to survive into, bitter, luxurious old age, living in self-exile on Malta; and Don Carlo Campanati, a man of God, eventually of church ...more
ebook, 656 pages
Published January 1st 2013 by Europa Yearbook (first published 1980)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Paul Bryant
Feb 21, 2013 Paul Bryant rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
Some people really like this big old thing. But it was yet another in the tedious catalogue of huge masculine overbearing egomaniacal penis novels about a Big Man like, say, I the Supreme or Illywacker or Gould's Book of Fish or The Book of Evidence or Mein Kampf - boy, there's a lot of em. And it's the egomaniac's voice who narrates it. So you volunteer to have the guy bending your inner ear for page after page and no break. Maybe some readers channel their inner masochist and lie back and wall ...more
That two-star rating might be a little unfair. I actually had fun reading large chunks of the book. If all you're looking for is something entertaining to read, and you enjoy British snark and bitchiness, then this is the ticket.

As a work of literature, however, it fell far short. And since it purports to seriously discuss the problem of good and evil, I think that's a fair yardstick. This is not, at the end of the day, the novelistic equivalent of Monty Python.

The novel follows the life of Ke
Feb 19, 2014 Abby rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A monumental novel, recently back in print, that has stuck in my mind for thirty years as an all-time favorite but needed to be reread to remind me why. An octogenarian British writer, asked to attest to a miracle that will support canonization of a Pope writes his memoirs, giving us a personal tour of the 20th-century through his life as a homosexual, lapsed Catholic, successful but mediocre writer, and exile. Examines morality, the nature of evil, the role of religious belief and more. Linguis ...more
"Sin? Such nonsense."

Earthly Powers is a magnificent book, one of the best books I have ever read, no exaggeration. It's difficult to categorize since so many adjectives apply to it: historical, sexual, political, religious, artistic, comedic, playful, supremely literary. Most of all, it's relentlessly, uncompromisingly, unashamedly, intellectual. Thus, unfortunately it's little read today, it if ever was, and serves as no modern model—hardly a negative attribute.

(Here's a dangerous rant: Due to
Nicholas Ochiel
Maybe reading a book this large and sophisticated is like being buggered by a big dick: "It's all about the motion in the ocean." (I brace myself, for "Argall", "Miss Mcintosh, My Darling", and "Divine Days" are even bigger and longer and more sophisticated and staring at me fixedly from across the room.) Now that I've had my little romp with Burgess I don't know what to make of the encounter except to stagger away dazedly, my gait slightly funny (all those hours sitting in an awkward position h ...more
Carol Storm
Just as Bela Lugosi will forever be known as Dracula, and Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's Monster, so Anthony Burgess will forever be known as the author of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. Alex casts a long shadow!

Nevertheless, take this book on its own terms and read honestly, and you will find that by and large it stinks on its own merits. Burgess has a sense of humor and can talk entertainingly about literature, history, and religion. But that's about it. Emotionally this book is a galactic void. Toomey
Jan 31, 2010 Dan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best first sentences I've had the pleasure of reading:

"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."

Unlike many Big Books, Earthly Powers is a treat throughout. Burgess's Joycemania is on full display but seldom gets out of control.
This book is sort of a fictitious pastiche on the life of William Somerset Maugham; at least that was my take on it. I still remember the sadness I felt when I finished reading this for the first time, not because of the narrative, but because I couldn’t keep on reading this incredibly epic story. I no longer have my hardback addition but I remember writing down the date on the last page when I first finished Earthly Powers, and then doing it again the second time I finished it.

I remember being
Sep 30, 2012 Kyle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: europe, religion
This is a hell of a book.

It took me about two and a half months to read, even though it's not one of the longest books I've read. That's cause this sucker is DENSE - no book for someone looking for an easy read.

The narrator, Kenneth Toomey, is a British novelist, now in his eighties, looking back over his life. Despite the fact that he is openly homosexual, officials from the Catholic Church want him to write for them - an account about the recently deceased pope, Gregory XVII, or Carlo Campanat
Feb 26, 2016 James rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"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."

Earthly Powers is the linchpin of Anthony Burgess' novel-writing career. It is a massive work that compares favorably with similar tomes of twentieth century literature. What sets Burgess apart from other authors is his linguistic playfulness combined with an exceptional narrative style. Although this style is here somewhat less obviously experimental t
Justin Evans
Jan 05, 2014 Justin Evans rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I'm unsure if I'll remember this as fondly in a few years as I do now. The second quarter of the book was extremely dull, and the narrative 'technique' is silly (bad novelist travels to a dozen or so countries in order to pick up royalties cheques through the twentieth century--necessary because there were such restrictions on currency movement). These two problems almost, almost destroy the book's excellent qualities. But then it more or less comes together.

The narrator's friend, Carlo Campana
Jun 29, 2016 Qi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: re-read-books
“What, Mr. Toomey, do you seek out of life?” A very straight question. “To enjoy it. To fix the phenomena of human society in words.” This is the central theme of this novel which doggedly try to fix the mystery of living within the riot of bodies and souls, art and religion, the historical and the individual. Above all, it is about the good and evil played within the many interlocking spheres lives. Don’t expect clean, neat conclusions. The cycle goes on, but each turning of the clog is cogent. ...more
Sep 02, 2011 Andrew rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: top-five, reviewed
One of my top five my favourite books, Earthly Powers is, above all, a compelling bit of storytelling. A sprawling, multi-generational tale that follows the protagonist's life from teenager to octogenarian and includes a number of real people such as Churchill and James Joyce. It is essentially the 20th Century distilled through the eyes of its' protagonist—who is cynical, but a humanist at heart. It's the fictional autobiography of a gay, expatriate English novelist now living in Malta. It open ...more
Jun 21, 2010 Mele rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
re-reading a first edition now. i remember thinking this book was the most interesting, epic, intelligent book when i read it back in high school... we'll see what i think ten years later.

Well, I'd probably still give it a lot of stars, very interesting, certainly entertaining, but maybe not as satisfying as I remember.
Apr 25, 2013 J.W. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I rarely write reviews but I feel that this book warrants breaking habit. For a book that runs 650 pages, not once did Earthly Powers become a chore. The most incredible thing about this book isn't that it flows for 650 pages with no stutter, it's not the perfectly-timed, respectfully delivered sucker punches, it's not the fact that the man has delivered a history of the 20th Century (on both a personal and wider scale).

The most impressive, incredible thing for me about this book is that no mat
Fungus Gnat
Aug 31, 2011 Fungus Gnat rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An elderly, homosexual British Catholic writer, living in Malta, tells the story of his life, which is closely linked to that of a Catholic prelate who eventually becomes Pope and who, having died, is eligible for canonization. Ken Toomey, the writer, hobnobbed with other expatriate literati on the Continent and was affected by, and sometimes affected, some of the great trends and events of the 20th century, including the rise of fascism in Germany and Italy, the second world war, the effloresce ...more
Jul 13, 2014 Haydn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this book the first time when I was twenty one, again when I was thirty and then a few years ago. The book pushes together and plays with apparently conflicting, disparate areas, miracles, Catholicism, Hollywood, Anglicanism, religious cults, hidden lives, flamboyant masks, romantic love and exploitative sex, fanaticism and agnosticism. It shows how good can lead to evil and how they are two sides of the same coin.

One image in particular has never left me -I can never look at a Sara Lee c
Feb 18, 2012 J. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: five-star
Shooting for the moon, knowing it would fall back to earth, this is Burgess at the height of his considerable powers, spinning a lopsided globe with one hand and, well, trying not to laugh too hard. The impossibly lofty account of civilization's status, set in an inauspicious moment, at the end of the twentieth century.

Haven't read since it was first published, but on the eve of a re-read -- an easy five stars.
Jenny (Reading Envy)
May 25, 2010 Jenny (Reading Envy) rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read08
A history of the world, practically, through the lens of one author. Interesting observations on religion, power, morality, and the creative process.
In Paul Theroux's introduction to this novel he wrote that when Burgess set out to begin this novel he "promised a novel of 'Tolstoyan proportions.'" In Earthly Powers, Burgess may have fulfilled this promise.

I will admit that there were times when I thought I wasn't going to finish this. It is not a novel for the faint of heart, and definitely not a quick or light read. It's pace is slow, but I have to admire that Burgess was able to maintain the same steady pace throughout the entire novel. Th
Mar 05, 2013 Tim rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Low-brow high-brow.

I'm not ashamed to say (OK, actually I am, a little bit) that the narrator of "Earthly Powers" and its author are far too clever for me. I couldn't get through this story of an aging writer, his escapades throughout the 20th century and a man he knows who would be pope. The writing is sharp but best appreciated, I fear, by that insufferable elitist guy you meet at parties who irritates you with his knowledge, self-love and command of many languages. The latter trait I do not h
Apr 17, 2015 Eleanor rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a teenager, I used to make a game out of seeing how much I could compress the themes and plot of a book whenever anyone asked me “What’s it about?” Were I to play the game with Earthly Powers, I would have to reply, “A gay Catholic novelist and the Pope.” (If I really wanted to compress and confuse, “gay Catholic novelists” would have to do.) For full review, see:
Derek Bridge
Aug 13, 2011 Derek Bridge rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Can a man write as a woman? An adult as a child? Black as white? Or, as in this novel, straight as gay?

Well, only partially successfully if this is anything to go by. But it doesn't matter.

This is a tour de force. The account of 80 years of life, drawing heavily on the author's own, intersecting with the major events and some of the major characters of the twentieth century. The life of Kenneth M. Toomey. A man with a dicky heart - just one of the many jokes - a heart condition, and a heart that
Siobhan Markwell
This is truly epic. While not an always an easy read, especially at the outset, it really is hugely rewarding.

All I knew about Burgess, apart from his fame as the author of Clockwork Orange, was gleaned from Wikipedia and the catalogue of his prodigious and wide-ranging literary output from the front of the novel. He had a varied colonial career and huge talents as a linguist and music lover. He drank heavily but was profoundly conservative living most of his later years self-imposed tax exile
Brian Darvell
I chose Earthly Powers as my introduction to Anthony Burgess only because I found this novel on my parent's bookshelf. Little did I know that this book was considered by many to be Burgess' pinnacle novel in the form of fiction. Published in 1980, Earthly Powers is a novel which basically outlines the historical situation of western society in the early half of the 20th century and although most of the characters in the novel are fictitious, a lot are based upon real-life people.

Earthly Powers h
Lee Paris
The first sentence of this book, noted already by several reviewers, will lead the prospective reader to believe that a naughty romp suggestive of Ronald Firbank is in the offing with camp prelates and seductive choir boys. Sadly, Kenneth Marchal Toomey, the largely celibate narrator of this memoir (likely inspired in large part by W. Somerset Maugham) seems to find sexual indulgence of that sort distasteful and spends most of his long life sniping at his gay acquaintances who are all burdened w ...more
Jonathan Rimorin
Dec 10, 2014 Jonathan Rimorin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Burgess's turbulent history of the 20th century, a very odd and comic book very much taken with Catholic apologetics for homosexuality. Not gay discourse, not queer theory, but a very much unreconstructed 19th-century concern about what God-with-a-capital-"G" thinks about men who desire other men (women who do the same, as such, are given short shrift, at least in this fictitious papacy). Given that Burgess published this in 1980, one shouldn't fault him for his lack of keeping pace with current ...more
Rob Woodard
Jul 06, 2010 Rob Woodard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A massive novel written in the form of quasi-memoir of a fictional Maugham-like author who is taking in totality of his life from old age. A fascinating literary romp thru the 20th century, which features many famous personages as characters. Overall I'd say this book is probably a little too ambitious, but it's still a very effective work. Recommended for anyone interested in 20th century European literature or Burgess' work. Great stuff.
Mar 15, 2016 Nick rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A bit like climbing Everest.

Exhilarating particularly on the way down.

It's long, let's face it ...long. Funny and obsessed with homosexuality, but hey that's one of its strengths.
Kyle Miller
Mar 11, 2016 Kyle Miller rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Imprisoned in every fat book a thin one is wildly signaling to be let out.
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Anthony Burgess was a British novelist, critic and composer. He was also a librettist, poet, playwright, screenwriter, essayist, travel writer, broadcaster, translator, linguist and educationalist. Born in Manchester, he lived for long periods in Southeast Asia, the USA and Mediterranean Europe as well as in England. His fiction includes the Malayan trilogy (The Long Day Wanes) on the dying days o ...more
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“In a story you had to find a reason, but real life gets on very well without even Freudian motivations.” 11 likes
“Look, I don't see why bad artists - I mean artists who are obviously incompetent... - why they should be presented hypocritically as good artists just because they're supposed to be advancing the frontiers of freedom of expression or... ...demonstrating that there should be no limit on subject matter.” 8 likes
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