Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Honey for the Bears by Anthony Burgess: Book Review

This has little to do with Anthony Burgess, or my thoughts on his book, Honey for the Bears, but…I found the following note scribbled in slanty, skinny boy-handwriting on the front cover of the book.

“Prof. Brooks-I have enjoyed your class immensely and I have developed a much greater appreciation for Russian history and literature. I wish you all the best and a speedy recovery from your surgery. Sincerely—Ishai (dated)”

I left out the last name and date to protect the innocent. There's something a touch sad about giving away a gift--especially a book. Even if it seems to be from some ass-kissing kid. Prof. Brooks couldn’t have much cared for the book or he wouldn’t have sold it to some used bookstore in Brooklyn, NY. Or maybe he was moving (perhaps due to surgical complications?) and he only wanted to take heavy, text-book types with him, leaving behind skinny, not-what-Burgess-is-known-for-anyway fiction that doesn’t behave like Russian literature (which is uniformly depressing, gloomy and cold, right?:).

This is a funny book. More than once, I found myself chuckling out loud, and re-reading sentences put together quirkily with an odd flamboyance. High-brow literature written for the Three Stooges. Briefly, the book is about an Englishman, Paul Hussey, who is voyaging to Russia with his American wife, to engage in some nefarious capitalist activities. They are selling synthetic, gaudily colored dresses to fashion-whores in Russia. Drillion dresses, they are called. They have many adventures, or Paul Hussey does (his wife is sick and weak in a hospital throughout much of the book before she goes off and has some adventures of her own).

Paul Hussey is an endearing character. Even when he attempts an "erotic assault" on the Russian maidenhood. Whenever he gets caught breaking the law, lying or cheating, he is indignant and outraged like some wronged customer at a fancy store. Never does he feel afraid, ashamed or guilty. It works well, and has a slap-stick comedic feel to it.

But despite all this, I was never really engrossed by the book. A classic “it’s not you, it’s me” problem. Well-written, fresh, interesting, funny and indeed "fizzing with energy" as the book jacket reviewer proclaims giddily—I should have loved it. But didn’t.

I was almost bored by large parts of it. Especially when he is describing all the Russian architecture and boisterous, drunken oddities of the Russian people. But he never rambles on about it--not really. And it is clear that he has a soft spot for the Russian people so his jabs feel familial somehow, instead of cranky and dismissive.

Regardless something about the chemistry of my brain when I was reading it or maybe the cosmic address of the moon in the sky---something stopped me from devouring this book. It's slightly unnerving to have an indefensible opinion, which is why I went out and got A Clockwork Orange this weekend. Await firm opinions on Burgess.


Blogger kezarye said...

I highly recommend Burgess's autobiographies-Little Wilson and Big God and You've Had Your Time. Both excellent. I love finding inscriptions in books and one of my characters in my novel is obsessed- always scouring second-hand bookshops and charity shops for books with cards inside them, stamps or dedications. When I find one I too always wonder about the people involved and how the book has ended up in the shop!

5:27 AM  
Blogger Sony Pony said...

Oh I definitely havent' given up on Burgess yet! Honey was good..eeerr..I just didn't like it.

Have you heard of Found magazine? It publishes things that the editors have found in public places. It's pretty great. There's something about finding someone's scribblings meant for others that's kind of...cool.

6:37 AM  
Anonymous sashi said...

Since I buy quite a few second hand books, the more poignant of such inscriptions are those of lovers, who perhaps are not lovers anymore. I think I have tried writing a poem on this theme.

9:58 AM  

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