Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

With its many levels of narrative discourse, The End of the World News has a definite place among the most formally self-conscious works of the postmodernist era, which show the influence of the critical thinking of French (post-)structuralism and deconstructionism. Burgess’ aim is not, however, to alienate (the majority of) readers with a circular intellectualism; rather, his novel can be placed in the category of popular works which are also intellectually satisfying, among which Umberto Eco’s Il nome della rosa (1980; The Name of the Rose, 1983) is a prime example.

Well aware of the reader’s familiarity with the global-disaster plot of the frame tale, Burgess’ science-fiction adventure survives on its intellectual wit, which is usually absent in the mass-market field of this genre. Hand in hand with this is verbal inventiveness which has become the author’s trademark ever since his 1962 masterpiece A Clockwork Orange. His fictional use of historical protagonists in The End of the World News has it predecessors most clearly in Burgess’ novel about William Shakespeare, Nothing Like the Sun: A Story of Shakespeare’s Love-Life (1964).

Finally, deriving strength from his previous musical works (his Third Symphony was performed in the United States in 1975), Burgess has told a tale about Trotsky that is a technically convincing “libretto of a musical play” on the generically untypical topic of world socialism.