BYRNE is Anthony Burgess's fianl work: an epic verse novel. It tells the story of a rampant Irish artist who, in the early years of this century, goes rapidly to the bad, philandering at every opportunity, selling his talents as a composer and painter, and ending up in Hitler's Third Reich. He then vanishes and the story passes to his children, including twin sons, one a doubting priest, the other sick of an incapacitating disease, who move across the troubled face of contemporary Europe before encountering their father in one final apocalyptic confrontation. Brilliantly readable, enormously funny and full of passion and energy, it is also Anthony Burgess's last powerful statement of life and art.
The prolific (over 50 books) and protean Burgess (1917-93), author of such amazingly varied fictions as Enderby (1967), Napoleon Symphony (1974), and A Dead Man in Deptford (1995), left this rambunctious "novel in verse" completed at his death. Borrowing both Byron's ottava rima and the nine-line stanza Spenser employed in The Faerie Queen (and throwing in a few sonnets for good measure), Burgess's anonymous narrator celebrates and regrets the gluttonous life indulged by his Falstaffian subject - an Irish Don Juan if there ever was one. The eponymous Michael Byrne achieves fame as artist, composer, and cocksman as he beds willing women and fathers disgruntled children, surviving political and erotic dangers in Hitler's Germany before disappearing into the Far East, and legend. The "fruits of his insemination" pursue their own dreams and flee their own demons (one is a priest, another author apocalyptic reunion with their Aged (and Unregenerate) Parent. Punk terrorists and Muslim fanatics bent on dishonoring Dante Alighieri also join in this word-drunk romp, which is distinguished by literally dozens of ingeniously brilliant comic rhymes: SS-men boozily strutting their stuff express "the joy of being drunk and Aryan./Though Hitler was a teetotalitarian," and an enlightened defense of the maligned Albert Einstein becomes "How the hell has his Jewishness impaired/The formula E=Mc2?" It isn't easy to stop quoting. Surely, somewhere Byron is rolling over in his grave. Laughing. It's heartening to learn from this wonder-filled book that, right up to the end of his life, the invaluable Burgess continued to enjoy writing as few writers have ever done. This is a swan song like no other, and one of the most delightful books of the decade. (Kirkus Reviews)