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ONE HAND CLAPPING

Anthony Burgess

  • Original Title: ONE HAND CLAPPING
  • Publication date: December 1961
  • Publisher: PETER DAVIES
  • Country: GB
  • 214 print pages
  • Dramedy/Classic

Information

  • Epoch: Historical
  • Time Period: 20th century
  • Location setting: United Kingdom
  • Themes: FAMILY, Couple, PEOPLE facing life, Life change, Death, Facing failure, SOCIETY DYSFUNCTIONS, Western decline, SOCIAL CHRONICLES, Social relations, Social climbing

Pitch

Set in 1960s northern England, the story of an angry young man who wins a lot of money using his photographic memory, takes his lovely wife on the trip of a lifetime and then insists that they’ve proven the world is shallow and worthless and wants them to commit suicide together.

Comments

It published originally under the pseudonym Joseph Kell in the UK.

The novel was intended as an indictment of what Burgess saw as the degradation of contemporary Western education and culture.

Burgess deliberately toned down his trademark love of vocabulary for the novel, which among other things lampoons the British television host Hughie Green. The entire vocabulary in One Hand Clapping amounts to approximately 800 words.

This is brilliant; subversive, funny, satirical, clever, dark and properly distracting.

Summary

Set in 1960s northern England, the story of an angry young man who wins a lot of money using his photographic memory, takes his lovely wife on the trip of a lifetime and then insists that they’ve proven the world is shallow and worthless and wants them to commit suicide together.

Janet Shirley was always impressed by her husband. Even before he began using his special talent to change their lives beyond recognition. The thing is, Janet doesn't want their lives to change that much - she's quite happy, working at the supermarket, cooking for Howard three times a day, watching quiz shows in the evening.

But once Howard unleashes his photographic brain on the world, the once modest used-car salesman can't seem to stop. And what he sees as the logical conclusion isn't something Janet can agree to. She will not consent to Howard's grand gesture.

Written out of Burgess' disgust at western decadence and degradation, ONE HAND CLAPPING casts a jaded eye over our values, drawing a conclusion that still resonates more than fifty years on.

The Independent review

go further

  • Author’s biography

    Anthony Burgess (1917 - 1993) was an English writer and composer. From relatively modest beginnings in a Catholic family in Manchester, he eventually became one of the best known English literary figures of the latter half of the twentieth century.

    Although Burgess was predominantly a comic writer, his dystopian satire A CLOCKWORK ORANGE remains his best-known novel. In 1971 it was adapted into a highly controversial film by Stanley Kubrick, which Burgess said was chiefly responsible for the popularity of the book. Burgess produced numerous other novels, including the Enderby quartet, and EARTHLY POWERS, regarded by most critics as his greatest novel. He wrote librettos and screenplays, including for the 1977 TV mini-series Jesus of Nazareth. He worked as a literary critic for several publications, including The Observer and The Guardian, and wrote studies of classic writers, notably James Joyce. A versatile linguist, Burgess lectured in phonetics, and translated CYRANO DE BERGERAC, OEDIPUS REX and the opera Carmen, among others.

    Burgess also composed over 250 musical works; he sometimes claimed to consider himself as much a composer as an author, although he enjoyed considerably more success in writing.