ANY OLD IRON
In his first novel since Earthly Powers (1980), Burgess here returns with a vengeance in this rich and witty historical tale--a broad project spanning major events of the 20th century. The tale begins with David Jones, a Welshman, steaming out across the Atlantic aboard that traveling Babylon of modernism, the Titanic, and surviving to arrive in New York. He there marries a Russian immigrant, Ludmila, and the two find themselves back in Britain when Jones takes up active service in WW I. Their offspring Reg and Dan bring readers on a conducted tour through WW II--grisly, demeaning, and completely convincing--while daughter Beatrix takes up with an American GI, Irwin Roth. Roth, stationed in a posh desk-job, goes on to write a completely unconvincing book about WW II, and one of the finer touches here is Burgess' skewering, in very few words, of the overproduced, post-WW II war novel. At the center of it all, and drawing in the varying political fortunes of Wales, England, the USSR, and Israel, is the myth of Caledvwlch, the sword of Attila, supposedly the one used by King Arthur. Originally in Britain, the artifact was wrested from an order of Benedictines by the Nazis as they foraged through Europe, then passed into the hands of Soviet troops as the war winds down--and provides the impetus for Reg to draw the narrative towards another creation of the 20th century, the Soviet Union. Though it's clear that Burgess sees the modern age as already long gone to hell in an overpriced handbasket, each episode here flashes with wit and buoyant verbal play. Fine spinning--with the author's telltale skill for detail--linguistics, music, impeccable dialogue--again in top form.