The opening line of this drawer novel in verse found among Anthony Burgess’s papers after his death is “Somebody had to do it.” and well, agree to disagree. The is short, a little over a hundred pages, and the story involves the long life of an Irish poet who finds himself among all sorts of sorts in the 20th century as he bandies about his world. It’s kind of a novel in complain, and while I am no poetry expert, it feels quite artificial.
The novel has both Byrne through his life, and Burgess’s narrator through his narration trying to grapple with the place of narrative poetry in the modern world, referencing Byron and Shelly, Yeats and Keats, Pound, Eliot, and probably untold numbers of other British poets that I don’t know all that well. The writing is often clever, if the verse is quite strained, and the effect is what feels like one of those topical and timely books that comes out by and by usually by a well-known author (I really am thinking about Ian McEwan’s awful The Cockroach) that is playful and maybe a little funny and completely empty. The focus here seems to be the waning years of the 20th century. There’s a lot of complaint about where the UK finds itself in the eyes of the world and the eyes of itself reckoning its downturn from world leader to large influential nation. It’s a novel of the great humbling, but like I said, it’s written in verse and the verse is not great.