The Modern Library

The Modern Library by Colm Tóibín, Carmen Callil Read Free Book Online

Book: The Modern Library by Colm Tóibín, Carmen Callil Read Free Book Online
Authors: Colm Tóibín, Carmen Callil
eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.’ The archbishop wants to talk about Carlo, Toomey’s brother-in-law who became Pope and could work miracles. The novel explores the cruelty of the century watched through Toomey’s decadent and world-weary eyes. It is a gripping, exhilarating and often melodramatic book which plays with ideas of good and evil, and combines moments from history – the Holocaust, the death of the followers of Jim Jones, changes in the Catholic Church – with strong characters and moments of pure theatre.
    Anthony Burgess was the pseudonym of John Anthony Burgess Wilson. He was born in Manchester of a Catholic family and lived for many years in Monaco. He was also a composer. In 1984 he produced a book which listed his ninety-nine favourite novels. People suspected this was the hundredth.
    Age in year of publication: sixty-three.

William Burroughs 1914–1998
1959 Naked Lunch
    This is a novel of dreams and nightmares, hallucinations and sudden moments of crystal clarity. Nothing connects, except an uncompromising tone, an attitude, and the constant presence of the body in all its ugly manifestations, and the state, or organized society, in all its brutality. This is not to forget the narrator’s relish in offering further images of pure disgust, setting scenes of cruelty and violence and drug-induced craziness and laughing at the good of it all. If there is a pregnancy, then there will be a bloody miscarriage; if there are teeth, then they will fall out; if there is a passenger plane, then someone is chopping the floor out of the lavatory. Blood, semen, pus, gangrene, venereal diseases, all types of drugs, belches, farts, hangings, shit, toilet paper, condoms, are everywhere. There is some marvellous surgery, including a scene in which a live monkey is sewn into the patient. There are sick jokes about ‘niggers’ and Jews; there are some good one-liners: ‘May all your troubles be little ones, as one child molester says to the other.’ The tone is often deadpan, matter of fact, like a movie script; the book is full of a morbid energy and rhythm; the method, which is fast-moving, aleatory and jumbled, holds your attention and makes the novel oddly riveting, relentlessly dark and crazed.
    William Burroughs was educated at Harvard. He lived for many years in Central and South America and Morocco. His other books include Junkie (1953), Cities of the Red Night (1981) and Queer (1987).
    Age in year of publication: forty-five.

A. S. Byatt 1936–
1990 Possession
    This feast of a novel, accurately subtitled ‘A Romance’, is replete with love stories both passionate and fateful, with high comedy, languishing tragedy, poetry, mystery and adventure.
    The time is now – and then. Now tells the story of an array of scholars of varying levels of greed or goodwill, anxiety and envy, who pursue the literary and emotional pasts of the Browningesque poet Randolph Henry Ash, and Christabel LaMotte, poet and muse. Then is the story of the Victorian liaison between Ash and LaMotte which is dramatic and obscure, and – as is slowly revealed – thoroughly heartwrenching. The present-day lovers-to-be, Ash research assistant Roland Michell and LaMotte scholar Maud Bailey, are inheritors of and act in counterpoint to the lovers from the past.
    A. S. Byatt is remarkable for the abundance and richness of her storytelling gifts. She offers robust drama – and a hundred other pleasures: myth and fairytale mingle with the poetic works of Ash and LaMotte and with journals, letters, mishaps, discoveries and farcical absurdities. Possession is a romance and a detective story which combines all the entertaining virtues of popular fiction with those qualities A. S. Byatt shares with George Eliot: prodigious narrative, imaginative energy and intelligence. Reading Possession is a mesmerizing experience; it becomes a

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