Little Wilson and Big God The First Part of the Confession

Little Wilson and Big God The First Part of the Confession The first volume of the two volume autobiographyIn an extraordinarily candid book of confessions Anthony Burgess tells the story of a disaffected Manchester Catholic from his birth in 1917 up to 1959 and the commencement of his career as a professional writer He details his burgeoning awareness of his artistic talent his relationship with his first wife his army career and his years as an education officer in Malaya and Borneo From the Trade Paperback edition


10 thoughts on “Little Wilson and Big God The First Part of the Confession

  1. Emmett Emmett says:

    Fact is stranger than fiction Among self effacing or preening autobiographies that fill the book market this is a breath of fresh air Burgess is so candid that it takes will to hear him out sometimes A reader is often curious about a favourite writer but this account makes one desire some limits to that curiosity One wonders how curious should someone have to be to be very interested in elaborate accounts of his sex life his waxing poetic about Keatsian 'ripening breasts' and the women of the East with their different complexions and idiosyncratic ways his dallying with Chinese prostitutes and keeping Malay mistresses It is a distinctively masculine account of physical and cerebral passions The word 'occident' also comes to mind but who is the reader to begrudge these strong and sometimes generous opinions so freely given? Rather than preemptively branding these memories with the familiar charge of being oppressive objectifying and colonial after all his experiences are in a way non typical of the ruling Westerner as reader I feel obliged to hear him out when he is being so determinedly frank It is as if by writing all this down he implies 'I have expressed myself in these words now do your worst to me' A lesser writer perhaps would writing in the very contemporary 1987 feel the need to pick his words carefully and demonstrate sensitivity and respect to Others but Burgess tells all and spares none To dismiss this memoir with a label is to disregard its entertainment value its own strange teeming riotous irreducible uality Malaya through his eyes is a tropical mess with predatory flora and fauna marked by heat and decay an ungovernable little foothold of Empire He is a paradoxical extension of that Empire and cultural rebel and linguistic adventurer baffled amused appreciative His experiences at various teaching colleges open up a first hand account of a world far varied and humorous than the history books of the region will allow and those familiar will note many of these accounts make their way into his Malayan Trilogy thinly disguised as fictionThis book calls readers to disregard sensitivities to laugh at dirty jokes in translation the name of the Trilogy's fictional state of Lanchap means 'smooth and slippery' but also 'to masturbate' to appreciate its author's love for music and image where these lieThere are some beautiful passages from sections of his early life when he talks about learning music about the difference between the musician and the composer Curious his admission that he cannot play perfectly but that to a composer it doesn't matter what is made manifest when he has it all on the page and in the imagination There is affection in these recollections but also a touch of regret at things that could've been done better; gravity and levity compete He can be such a snob but only because he's a natural intellectual even at fourteen years old Happily reading Joyce teaching himself music experimenting as a comic artist magazine editor poet At home among the modernists


  2. Nigeyb Nigeyb says:

    An extraordinary autobiography Prior to reading this the only other book I'd read by Anthony Burgess was A Clockwork Orange I was inspired to read this book having come across a short extract photocopied and framed on the wall of The Wheatsheaf pub in Rathbone Place London Anthony Burgess was once a customer and he was describing the era in the 1940s when both he and Julian Maclaren Ross were regulars As a great admirer of Julian Maclaren Ross it was a desire to read this particular section probably only six or seven pages in total that prompted me to read it I should add that Burgess was gratifyingly complimentary about the work of Maclaren Ross and brings that era beautifully to lifeLittle Wilson and Big God is only the first part of a two part biography and covers the 42 years from Burgess’s birth in 1917 to 1959 when his time as teacher and education officer in Malaya and Brunei came to an end and he decided to devote himself to writing full time believing he only had a year to liveBurgess was clearly very bright and something of a polymath He taught himself languages and wrote classical music in addition to gaining scholarships and doing well at school Despite this he was also something of a slacker as a young man drifting through the war and then into teaching in Malaya and Brunei He and his wife had an open relationship from the off and he appears to be very honest about his conduct which was freuently drunken and idiosyncratic He has a trove of great memoriesI found the whole book engrossing as he vividly recreated the Manchester of his boyhood; life in the army during the war with all its attendant pettiness and absurdities; and his various eccentricities and onto ever outrageous behaviour as an observant if unorthodox expat during the fag end of British colonialismHis writing style is flamboyant and sophisticated and reuired a few stops to consult the dictionary and I felt I was in the hands of a great writer at the top of his game I eagerly anticipate the second part You've Had Your Time I have also bought The Complete Enderby too This feels like the start of a beautiful relationship55


  3. Dan Shorer Dan Shorer says:

    Burgess is very much out of fashion these days on the logical grounds that he was something of a serenely and mildly racist sexist homophobic imperialist of the cheerful and well meaning variety He comes across much stubbornly Catholic and conservative than his prodigious philandering would lead you to believe and has a few casually deplorable things to say about women and brown people Despite his obvious mental gifts he is freuently forced to fall back on pleas of laziness or persecution to excuse various failures both academic or professional I enjoy his work because I like to learn and I like an author who can present an etymological history of the vast array of Malay words for copulation in one paragraph then a joke about Kandinsky in the next I own the second volume of his autobiography but I admit that upon finishing this one I feel no urgence to begin reading it It is no surprise that Burgess's autobiography contains a lengthy index I suspect I will consult this if I want a few pages of targeted wit and erudition and will perhaps dip into it from time to time for the pleasure of watching him perform but as a sustained act he rather overstays his welcome


  4. Neale Neale says:

    ‘Little Wilson Big God’ is a marvellous book marvels are not to be trusted of course The fact that Burgess may or may not be blagging much of the time is part of the book's appeal a great writer of fiction is turning his tools on the raw material of his own life and fashioning it into a kind of magic lantern show In his works of fiction Burgess’s invention occasionally waned – when talking about himself he is never at a loss The language is evocative exuberant and delights in obscure words and precise details The sense of time and place is wonderful This is the best kind of autobiography – shameless self serving and joyous leaving the dirty work for biographers to come


  5. Drew Raley Drew Raley says:

    An entirely self serving masterpiece of autoreportage in which its authorsubject paints an absolutely absorbing picture of pre and postwar Britain His account of interwar Manchester conveys the sights and smells of a place long extinguished He contextualizes his eccentricities laying bare the roots of his flaws in this book whereupon the vast difficult personality evidenced in the rest of his ouvre is limned The writing and recollection are unparalelled


  6. Alan Alan says:

    1988 notebook just finished LWBG Burgess's half life story fascinated by his wife Lynne and would have liked on her His life seems a little too easy despite the experiences in Gibraltar and Malaya Here is a man who can write a novel in six weeks can pick up languages in days and compose symphonies in his spare time most of which he devotes to getting drunk and getting laid in that orderJust jealous I suppose


  7. Kate Kate says:

    Recommended by Mary Carr in The art of memoir


  8. Ryan Ryan says:

    Burgess wrote two volumes of memoirs; this book covers his first forty two years Though nearly twice the size of the second book You've Had Your Time it's half as interesting It gives a rather different account of a young English writer's maturity than most books of its type Burgess was born in Manchester not in the Home Counties; he did not go to one of 'great universities' He was reared among pubs chop shops and off licences and called 'mard arse' at school He didn't seem to let up once entering the army When a superior demanded that Burgess call him'Sir' he replied that he only called the Monarch and the Almighty 'Sir' and he was neitherAlthough the book is largely a catalogue of disasters it has no self pity Burgess's productive restlessness outlaws that It seems there was much to pity right from the start Burgess' Father returned from World War One to find both his wife and daughter dead from the flu epidemic and baby Burgess gurgling in his cot It caused him Burgess suggests to resent his son for the audacity of survivalA warning Some have described the memoirs as the greatest novels of Burgess' career and you don't need a biography to see why Burgess had a store of tales about his life a script to follow and either came to prefer both to reality or forgot the difference The lumpy pompous style irritates dropping words like 'stertorous' as if from a punctured dictionary Get the second volume instead


  9. Al Maki Al Maki says:

    “The first task was to uieten them and not through the regular military techniue of demanding uiet which did not work The thing to do was to grab some docker arbitrarily from the front row and talk to him with whispering earnestness thus inducing the listening silence of the curious WIth this gained I would cry “Gentlemen” That provoked large howls of derision I would follow with “Those of you who can read may have seen the word over public urinals I use the word with that meaning” While they were thinking that over I would try to introduce the prescribed topic ”The description of an education session he delivered to conscripted dock workers during WWIIAnthony Burgess tells the story of his life from his birth in 1917 until the day in 1959 when he was diagnosed incorrectly with an inoperable brain tumour and decided to devote the time remaining to him to writing novels to support his soon t0 be widow It's a candid and vituperative account of growing up alienated in Britain a Catholic a northerner and lower middle class It's also a good account of the transformation of society that took place in the first half of the 20th century Burgess is clever in love with words funny and he tends to deal with received opinions the way a terrier does rats


  10. Liz Liz says:

    Great for linguists and musicians as Burgess goes into the minutiae of both subjects Also great if you don't mind the reminiscences of an aged man reviewing his sexual historyescapades Having said this I enjoyed much of the book The struggle with lapsed Catholicism the pictures painted of prewar Manchester and life for colonials in Malaya as well as the literary circles of London were spellbinding I have not read any of Burgesses novels and I don't think that I want to I didn't know what a prolific composer he was Again I don't think I'll seek out his musical compositions But as a non biography reader I would recommend this book to people I like Keep a dictionary beside you when reading this book although Burgess admits to creating neologisms so don't be surprised if you can't find the work you're looking for


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