A novel by Anthony Burgess
, Earthly Powers
is written from the viewpoint of mediocre but popular novelist and playwright Kenneth Toomey, a old man looking back on the times of his life.
Earthly Powers deals with so many topics that it's hard for me to recount them all, esp. now that I've taken the book back to the library (sorry). I'll try and cover the main ones here...
1) Religion. The Catholic faith features hugely. Toomey's brother-in-law is a forceful (in more ways than just the physical) Italian priest who rises to be Pope.
2) Sex. Toomey is a homosexual man when homosexuality meant condemnation to not only being an outsider, but comdemnation in the eyes of the law. His sister makes the journey from dutiful Catholic schoolgirl, through abused wife, to a lesbian relationship with an african-american - which moves me nicely on to the next topic...
3) Race. Particularly the racial politics of a decaying colonial era, where the whites seem jaded and seedy.
4) Good and evil - Carlo Campanati, Toomey's brother-in-law, is a man who takes the fight the fight against evil seriously. He believes wholeheartedly in evil as a force; one that must be fought with all the weapons that come to hand, even torture.
5) The 20th Century. Toomey's narrative starts in his teens in the middle of World War One, and finishes over 60 years later. A lot of historical ground is covered in between.
6) Loads more - gambling, language, literature, music and the visual arts...
I'm not a very good reviewer so I'm going to stop soon, but I think that book is one of the masterpieces of 20th century English literature - it just covers so much ground so brilliantly. It's also got the best opening line that I've ever came across:
It was on the afternoon of my 81st birthday and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali told me the Archbishop had come around to see me.