You've Had Your Time by Anthony Burgess

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You’ve Had Your Time

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In 1959, Anthony Burgess was diagnosed as having a brain tumor which would kill him within a year. Prior to becoming Anthony Burgess, author, he was John Anthony Burgess Wilson, British education officer. He had been stationed in Malaya (where he had written several novels) before he and his wife, Lynne, returned to England, only to find out that he had little time left to live. Burgess did not want to leave his alcoholic wife destitute; writing novels as fast as he could would be his solution. His wife refused to read any of the books that he completed. Through sheer will power, Burgess made himself into a full-time writer. He did not shrink from the task, and the medical diagnosis turned out to be completely wrong.

In YOU’VE HAD YOUR TIME, Burgess presents the frantic pace at which he led his life. Ever-troubled by his wife’s drinking and promiscuity, he plunged into project after project. Burgess describes the nonglamorous routine necessary for a working writer. His early books brought little success, but he continued to push himself in a variety of writing endeavors, including reviews, translations, and critical works concerning James Joyce. He is probably best known for his novel A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1962) because of the 1971 film version directed by Stanley Kubrick. Lynne finally died in 1968 of cirrhosis. Burgess was a shattered man.

Nearly bankrupt after his wife’s death, Burgess pushed forward as best he could. Not long after, a woman from his past showed up and informed him that their sexual encounter a couple of years before had produced a child. Burgess proposed marriage to the mother—the respected translator Liana Macellari—of his child and they left England for the Continent. Burgess is always fascinating in his retelling of his nomadic life. Never one to pull his punches, he passionately takes on the critics who were scathing in their assessment of his writing. YOU’VE HAD YOUR TIME ends in 1982 with the celebrations of the centenary of James Joyce’s birth. Burgess is never still. He moves like a blur and he has opinions on the life and literature that are always thoughtful, as well as, frequently uproarious. Anthony Burgess is the consummate professional, and he has created a fine entertainment in YOU’VE HAD YOUR TIME by mining his own life’s rich vein.

Sources for Further Study

The Antioch Review. XLIX, Summer, 1991, p. 465.

Chicago Tribune. May 19, 1991, XIV, p. 4.

Choice. XXIX, October, 1991, p. 277.

London Review of Books. XII, November 8, 1990, p. 17.

Los Angeles Times. April 24, 1991, p. E2.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVI, April 28, 1991, p. 1.

The New Yorker. LXVII, May 20, 1991, p. 108.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXVIII, March 22, 1991, p. 64.

The Times Literary Supplement. October 26, 1990, p. 1143.

The Washington Post Book World. XXI, May 12, 1991, p. 1.

You’ve Had Your Time

(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

In January, 1960, Anthony Burgess was diagnosed as having a terminal disease and informed that he had less than a year to live. Approaching his forty-third birthday, he decided to write six novels in his remaining time so as to leave some kind of legacy for his wife. This apparently instantaneous resolve to become a professional writer is not otherwise explained, and readers therefore must consult the first volume of Burgess’ life story, Little Wilson and Big God: The Autobiography (1987) for an account of his initial efforts as a novelist while teaching in Malaysia. Nevertheless, You’ve Had Your Time stands by itself, with Burgess’ race against the clock providing this second volume with a particularly swift beginning.

Although Burgess calls his “temperament essentially secretive and mendacious,” his memoir seems brutally frank, as befits a book that in Europe was titled Confessions . A lapsed Catholic, he observes that to confess is to seek forgiveness, and it is perhaps this apparent precision in admitting his faults that accounts for his narrative’s remarkable lack of rationalization. Not surprisingly, Burgess feels guilty about his...

(The entire section is 2,451 words.)