Even though Burgess was an ‘enormously prolific journalist’, he is dominantly known for his controversial, cult classic A Clockwork Orange (1962). But you will find no Nadsat here.
This collection of journalism, edited by Will Carr, features some of Anthony Burgess’s articles from 1961 to his death in 1993. Previous collections of his work include Urgent Copy (1968) and Homage to Qwert Yuiop (1986) however, as these are now out of print, many readers are unaware of Burgess’s non-fiction. That is, until now.
The Ink Trade is comprised of an impressive sixty articles and reviews covering a range of topics from Samuel Beckett’s birthday (not Good Friday as Beckett would argue) and why Burgess writes (‘compulsion’ he simply puts). Each feature is a few pages long which makes this book the perfect companion to anyone like me, a millennial with a fleeting attention span – or so I’m told.
But, in all seriousness, The Ink Trade makes a great example of a book you can pick up and put down. You can read it anywhere and you won’t have to worry about finishing the chapter before your stop or until someone else wants the toilet.
Although short, each section is written with both substantial research and credibility yet also wit, cynicism and rhythm – making it a pleasure to read. ‘Literature is monody, the single line, the voice unaccompanied’, he writes, almost poetically in The School of Jesuits yet, a mere twenty-five pages later, he effortlessly shifts to a comically spiteful tone: ‘The critics are having a stab at me again. Me that is, in my capacity as a novelist…Writing a book is damned difficult work, and you ought to praise any book you can’. He seems to effortlessly immortalise his voice on the page, a skill few writers can successfully do, as we picture him before us, throwing his toys out of the pram, fag in one hand and a whisky in the other.
His style of writing reminds me of other great journalists and novelists such as Hunter S. Thompson and George Orwell. They all share that nihilistic and macho persona that only writers of their generation seem to pull off.
This book contrasts greatly to his fiction. If you were to give The Ink Trade and Clockwork Orange to a reader, concealing the author’s name, they would quickly assume that they were written by two different people. That’s if they made it through the first Nadsat infested page of the 1962 black comedy.
I can only fault this book on one thing – his criticisms. I don’t agree with quite a few of them and in many cases seem hypocritical and vague. He claimed Pale Fire, Nabokov’s 1962 novel, was ‘tedious to read’ (just a tad rich coming from you Burgess) and states that Kerouac’s style of ‘dangerous leaness’ is ‘not good’. However, disliking a book for the author’s opinions is just as productive as fighting with a dead man. Hang on. That’s exactly what this is…
The Ink Trade is the perfect companion for anyone on their daily commute, especially those interested in journalism and literary criticism. It is an accessible and effortless read and I’m thankful Will Carr has given us that. If he hadn’t collated these previously unpublished materials, I would have always remembered Burgess for ‘chepooka’ and not his stinging wit.
The Ink Trade releases on the 30th May.
By Emily Priest