The pianoplayers by Anthony Burgess

 

The Pianoplayers by Anthony Burgess

English fiction

Source – personal copy

I review another of the lesser known books from Anthony Burgess this has actually just been reissued by Manchester university press as part of the Irwell series. In fact, if you order the books now there is 50% off for next week or so . I have all the books they have reissued barring Beard roman women and Puma (although I have the end of the world news which puma is a part of the book now removed into a separate sci-fi novel).This book was near the end of Burgess life and in a way was maybe more personal than his other books as it is set in Manchester and one of the main characters had the same job as a piano player as Burgess own father had. Music has been a large part of Burgess life he considered his own music more of an accomplishment than his writing.

My father wasn’t really getting married. What he was going to do was just live with a woman who kept a pub, a woman separatedfrom her husband,her husband had gone off with a young girl, a barmaid I think it was. The woman had had the pub licence from the husband who had died previously , not the one who’d gone off.The pub was called the grapes though it sold no wine except port and sherry, it was in a slummy district it was big and full of brass rails and it had two singing rooms as they were called.

This remond me of the pub in the northern based comedy Early doors like this pub an old pub for the working man the sort that is dying out now.

As I said this book is partly based in Manchester it has two storylines that are in the present which at the time the book was written well earlier maybe but sometime between the late sixties and eighties we meet Ellen Henshaw she is a madam on the French coast her life goes back to the backstreets of Manchester and the story of her fatherBilly  a drunken cinema piano player. He is one of the men that made the music to the silent films before sound took off and  played in pubs as well as she follows him from Manchester through places like Blackpool and the Lancashire mill towns in the ups and downs of his life as the cinema jobs dry up and he starts to fall down the bottle some more this leads to the latter half of the book which is Ellen’s own journey from a convent girl to the sort after girl to spend the time with for money as that career wanes she starts a school of love.

This maggie had a snub nose and a bit of a double chin coming on, but she had these very lovely legs, I’ll say thart for the little bitch. They were very long and you could seethem right up to her bottom, and they were in sheer black silk stockings with the seam absolutely straught at the back.They were beautiful legs, and she didn’t deserve to have them. They were like the legs you see much more of post-war legs having got longer due to better nutriment or Marshall aid or something,My dad played a song for her, nut while she did her bit of monolougue i couldn’t helo notice that he kept looking at these legs

When he has to do Vaudeville with an older act but with great legs as he points out here.

This is a personal book the best character is Billy which is based on Burgess own father who like Billy was a piano player then there is a connection with Ellen who had escaped England which is something that Burgess had done himself in his later years he lived in Tax exile all around Europe. This is a comic lament of a world that is long gone of men playing along to films trying to stay sober to the end of the film and the coming of the talkies meaning they had to leave Manchester and head to the Vaudeville stages that were still around at that time and these pubs with piano players. Maybe not his best book after the death of Billy Ellen story is maybe less believable than that of Billys. But the book is worth reading as the first part evokes those years of piano players in the cinema and how hard it was to improvise to the films there is a number of passages around the musical  notes he played not being musical I not sure how good they were but Burgess was a composer so I expect them to be accurate. Have you read any of Burgess lesser novels I have a lot more to get through by him but this is a fun book by him .

A Vision of Battlements by Anthony Burgess

A Vision of Battlements

 

A Vision of Battlements by Anthony Burgess

English fiction

Source – Personal copy

I have over the years I have been blogging talked about my love of Anthony Burgess for me he was one if not the best English writer of the later 20th century. I did a post of all the books I got over a year ago since then this came out as the Manchester University Press has been bringing out some of his out of print novels. This was the first in that collection the Irwell collection it has a lengthy intro by Burgess biographer Andrew Biswell who is also director of the International  Anthony Burgess Foundation. There is also the previous intros from the earlier books the only piece that is missing is the illustrations that were in the first edition a series of cartoon depictions of the story.

Ennis, sergeant Richard Ennis, A.V.C.C , lay in his hammock on the sergeants’ troop deck, shaping his miond, behind his closed eyes, against the creacks and groans of the heaving ship, a sonata for Violoncello and piano. He listened to the sinuous tune of the first movemnet with its percussive accompaniment, every note clear. It was strange to think that this, which had never been heard except in his imagination, never been commited to paper, should be more real than the pounding sea, than the war which might now suddenly come to particular life in a U-Boat attack, more real than himself, than his wife. It was a pattern that time could not touch, it was stronger than love.

Like Burgess Ennis is a composer Burgess often felt himself more a musician that a writer.

A vision of Battlements is partly based on Burgess own experience at the end of the second world war and the time just after the war. He was like the hero well anti Hero of this book Richard Ennis based on that small British island of Gibraltar. Like Burgess Ennis has a job teacher troops about The British way and purpose which was a collection of essays the war office had brought together to illustrate the British way to the everyday squady. Ennis is a musician a heart that loves music and poetry and really has ended up there by the fact of being drafted into the Army. He teaches the students in his own way. But he is viewed as a left winger when he gives his talks. He also has a problem with Authority he frequently clashes with his commanding officer. Major Muir a man sidetracked to the position he is in and one that has invented his own history that finds Ennis a bright younger man a threat and someone to worry about.  This is the everyday life of the Gibraltar post the argument of the men and the way they lived the frequent drunkenness of the men. Ennis is allowed to go into Spain here he falls in love with the poetry of Lorca and decides to translate him and he gets into trouble with the Christain brother who views these poems as godless. Ennis then also has relations with a local widow.

Major Muir was a regular W.O 1 with a first class ceritficate of Education. Wounded early in the war, he had been commissioned as a lieutenant in the army Educational Corps, then transferred, with promotion, to this newer organisation. He had delusions of grandeur and had invented fantasies about himself – the many books he had written, the many universities he had attended.He spoke often ungrammatically, with a homemade accent in which Cockney diphthongs stuckout stiffly, like bristles. His ignorance was a wonder

.Muir and ennnis don’t get one it is rather like the dads army pair of Captain Mainwaring and Sergeant Wilson

Now this book was actually the first book he wrote. He finished it in 1953 and put it to one side when he had published a few books in 1961 he gave it to one publisher they passed on it and in 1964 he gave it to the publisher that published the book. The book came from a series of blue notebooks Burgess kept whilst he was posted to Gibraltar doing much the same things as his hero Ennis was doing there is also a nod to Burgess great writing Hero Joyce he used the Aeneid as a loose frame to the book like Joyce had used odyssey in Ulysses. So certain names echo ones in the Aeneid Iabrus is Barasi and Turnus becomes Turner a character that is a complete opposite to Ennis. This book has a sprinkling of the comic the sort of view of army life that only those that have lived in the barracks can see and write about. Ennis was written about the same time as Amis wrote Lucky Jim and they are similar in a number of ways both are loved in a way by those they teach and mistrusted by those around them and also have trouble with the authoritarian figures in the world. This book has been out of print for forty year which is a shame as it is an interesting slice of world war two history not heroic but that everyday side of the army when you are in a place that isn’t near the front line but still needs to be manned. Burgess referred to this as wasted time and a huge chunk of his life. I will be back sometime soon with another Burgess as I still have a lot to cover for this blog.

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