Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The question of unity among the three different narratives, which altogether make up what Burgess calls “an entertainment” rather than a novel, is partially answered by the astonishingly self-conscious text of The End of the World News itself. Not only are two of the stories plays which were performed in Valentine Brodie’s world, but also the novel boasts a “foreword” which, slightly self-mockingly, plays the game of critical interpretation by claiming that the novel was put together from three manuscripts which were “shuffled casually together” by a dead author.

According to the fictional editor, ironically named “John Wilson, B.A.” (John Anthony Burgess Wilson, B.A., is the author’s full name and academic title), the three stories of The End of the World News are unified in the sense that they deal with the three “greatest events of the past century-the discovery of the unconscious by Sigmund Freud, the Trotskian doctrine of world socialism, and the invention of the space rocket.”

As a justification for the “collage” into which episodes of the three stories are arranged, the fictional editor presents a note by the dead author on an authentic “photograph of late President Carter. . . watching television . . . three screens simultaneously.... This must be future viewing pattern. True visual counterpoint. Is this also possible future for the novel?”