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Earthly Powers

4.16 of 5 stars 4.16  ·  rating details  ·  1,491 ratings  ·  109 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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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...more
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
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...more
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...more
Justin Evans
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...more
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.
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.
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...more
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...more
Fungus Gnat
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
"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...more
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
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.
Derek Bridge
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...more
Rob Woodard
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.
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...more
An epic whose power lies as much in its performance as its story. Read the first paragraph and you're hooked.
Stephens Malone
Second time around, still awesome! Love Burgess!
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...more
Earthly Powers is the story of Kenneth Toomey, a middlebrow English author, and Carlo Campanati, a priest and exorcist, as told by Toomey. The story covers most of the twentieth century, featuring members of the Toomey and Campanati families alongside a cavalclade of historical figures. The narrative thrives on the comic and tragic effects of intertwined lives and unintended consequences. Highlights in the comic vein include Toomey's ability to refute a small part of Joyce's recreation of June 1...more
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...more
Cary Barney
I picked this up at a paperback swap a few years ago and it gathered dust on my shelf until I finally got to it a few weeks ago, in the mood for something big and sprawling and beautifully written. You can count on Burgess for that; his prose is second to Nabokov's for invention, wit, delight, even if its density sometimes makes for slow going. "Earthly Powers" attempts to pack in the entire 20th century, mingling its fictional characters with real ones, moving from one semi-historical set piece...more
Rob Walter
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 exp...more
Rupert Smith
Sometimes I’m asked to list ‘the best gay novels ever’, and I often put this at Number One. Burgess isn’t thought of as a ‘gay writer’, although you don’t have to dig too far to figure out that he was at the very least bisexual. But Earthly Powers is nothing less than a 20th-century history viewed through the prism of homosexuality and homophobia, focusing on Catholicism, Nazism and just about every other ‘ism’ that matters. Like all Burgess it’s extremely funny and erudite, but for once he real...more
Daniel Mcbrearty
This is one of the most provocative and thought provoking books that I ever read. Burgess offers a kind of dissection of the 20th century and its ideas, through the eyes of an elderly gay author, writing about his old friend, a recently deceased pope.

Using this device, he manages to offer a view on about 60 years of history, from Britain around the First World War to the US in the 1970's. In the process, he pulls apart and question so many contemporary religious and moral ideas, it makes your h...more
Faith Bradham
Honestly, I thought I would never finish Earthly Powers. While I admire Anthony Burgess immensely as an author, this book was extraordinarily slow and dense. I read it unbelievably slowly, and could only handle less than 50 pages a sitting before having to put it down. The slowness is intentional, I think, but is still hard to handle.

One thing I did absolutely adore about Earthly Powers was the language. Anthony Burgess manipulated the English language fantastically, in a happiness-making way....more
Susetyo Priyojati
This book is (rather) famous for its opening sentence, and the promising first peep did not disappoint me. As one author once noted (was it Twain?) a good fiction has neat machinery that does not show. I fail to dissect the techniques that make the story flow in such a controlled tempo - and it's probably the better for it.
There are whole chapters on theological musings, sermons, discussions on Art (the butcher's boy), etc. that I don't really care about - but perhaps are necessary to give the w...more
Kyla Crowley
Can we get back to the Ultraviolence?

I got to page 200 before I dropped out of the class I was reading this for just because I could not bring myself to finish it.
What a horrible book. OK, I know the author created the narrator and it's not meant to be his real voice (or so I hope) but to have created so many appalling characters and revolting scenarios bespeaks something amiss with the author. To me, anyway.
And you know how some authors are described as wearing their learning lightly? Not this chap. I started to list the words that I felt got in the way of the story by their obscurity - proleptically, aleatory, onomastic, nugacity, hogo, septentrional, d...more
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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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“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.” 5 likes
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