ENDERBY'S DARK LADY by Anthony Burgess


Or No End to Enderby
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Enderby the Poet--corpulent, flatulent, malicious--arrived, full of bile and Joycean brio, in Enderby (1968). He took a look at New York circa 1973 in The Clockwork Testament (1975), promptly dying of a heart attack. And now, "to placate kind readers. . . who objected to my casually killing my hero," Enderby is resurrected circa 1976--in a brief, heavyhanded, disappointing episode. This time the prim poet is in Terrebasse, Indiana (that's the level of the wordplay here), hired to write the libretto for a musical about Will Shakespeare. His collaborators, of course, are a cartoonishly crude lot--they want show-biz, not Enderby's intricately rhymed Elizabethan-style verses. The show's backer is ostentatious local matron Mrs. Schoenbaum (more than a whiff of anti-Semitism here), whose favorite spiritualist claims to be in touch with Shakespeare's understandably riled-up ghost. But the co-star, in the Dark Lady role, is gorgeously black pop-diva April Elgar--and Enderby, smitten with lust, is soon tailoring the show to her non-Elizabethan talents. April, who switches back and forth between crude New Yorkese and a "slave whine" (both imperfectly rendered), is actually nice and educated; she invites Enderby to her Carolina home for Christmas (where he must pose as a clergyman, preaching an incoherent sermon to a Baptist congregation); she is not unresponsive to Enderby's infatuation. Still, Enderby--for "aesthetic" reasons--declines to convert his lust into reality, confining himself to masturbation. ("He had to cart the engorged shlong three times into the bathroom. . . .") And, in the ill-staged slapstick finale, the poet is forced to take over the role of Shakespeare on the opening night of the show. . . now titled Actor on His Ass. Burgess bulks out this thin novella with two labored Shakespeare fantasies--one at the beginning (WS drafts the 46th Psalm for the King James Bible), the other at the end (WS and time-travelers). He includes many examples of Enderby's hard-working libretto. But the central comic situation never comes to satiric life (mystery-writer Simon Brett would have gotten more laughs from it); the love-story manquÉ is limp; and the two strengths of the previous novels--the Enderby character, the rococo narration--only flair sporadically in this twiddling spin-off.
Pub Date: April 1st, 1984
ISBN: 0070089760
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: McGraw-Hill
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1984


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