BEARD'S ROMAN WOMEN
In A Clockwork Orange (1962), Burgess tried to chill us with the portrait of a culture that takes its values from the television set. Here the idiosyncratic diction, the playful dialogue (though muted), and dreamlike plot reappear, but the effect teases more than chills. The protagonist, Ronald Beard, himself a television script-writer, resembles one of Alex's way-worn, middle-aged victims, rendered sympathetic and slightly comic by self-consciousness. His wife dead of cirrhosis, he goes to California to plan a melodrama; there he meets Paola, sensual and combative, and follows her to Rome. But in spite of a redeemed sexuality, Beard remains the victim: first, of his old pal Greg-Greg's bombastic reminiscences; then of Paola's ex-husband's jealousy and abuse, of a band of Roman hoodlums, and, throughout, of befuddling coincidences. Later he's terrorized by cheery late-night phone calls from his dead or resurrected wife; he's sorry for having rejected her "gross, sick body" but he doesn't want her back. Finally, after Paola's been reunited with her husband and Beard has entered the terminal phase of a tropical disease, he tries to make himself the victim of the seven flights of stairs to Paola's flat; he fails, and goes off with Greg-Greg in the Roman rain. It's been a clever performance but fades out quickly.