In the first of two autobiographical volumes, Burgess details his life pretty much up to the point where he became a writer -- well into adulthood, and only because a doctor had given him a short time to live and he wanted to make some quick money to support his wife. (He sure made up for it after failing to die, though.) The title refers to the author himself, who was born John Burgess Wilson. Most of his adult adventures in this book -- in England, Gibraltar, India, and Malaysia -- are with the military, and involve lots of bemused couplings, not least because his wife saw no reason for them to be sexually monogamous. There's plenty of erudition and linguistic humor (Burgess and Borges bamboozling secret service men by quoting Caedmon in Latin back and forth between them; his 10-year-old gloss on the "Gloria" prayer is priceless), but there are also scenes of basic human folly (two brothers fight over Burgess's wife in front of him) and bracing honesty (Burgess compares the sexual style of Malay and Chinese women to Westerners; he witnesses several autopsies, and a Liverpool physician discusses Shoenberg with our hero while cutting up aborted fetuses -- in the 1940s!). Quite a story, heckuva a man.
The review of this Book prepared by David Loftus