A Dead Man in Deptford

Anthony Burgess, Author Carroll & Graf Publishers $21 (0p) ISBN 978-0-7867-0192-6
Burgess's last book, published in England two years ago, shortly before the author's death, is a masterly piece of work. It is an extraordinary reflection on the state of American publishing that the novel had to wait so long for publication here, and then be brought out only by a small but enterprising company like Carroll & Graf. Like Burgess's Nothing Like the Sun 30 years ago (arguably the finest novel ever written about Shakespeare), this volume reflects the author's magical sense of language and his deep immersion in the Elizabethan ethos. The story of the short life of brilliant young playwright Christopher Marlowe is ostensibly told by an actor of the time; so perfectly is the period voice caught that it is hard to believe the novelist was not transcribing contemporary documents. Marlowe is seen as a student at Cambridge, soon caught up in the life of a secret agent, shuttling between England and France as the religious struggles of the time reach their apex in the slaying of Mary Queen of Scots. Himself a skeptic, and an active homosexual (frolicking with the young heir of the powerful Earl of Walsingham), Marlowe manages for several risky years to keep his head above the sectarian waters, working when he can at his plays, ever after ``the mighty line.'' Then some of his fellow conspirators, suspicious of him, fabricate a brawl on a spring evening in a tavern and he is slain, still in his 20s. Burgess's command of his material is absolute; he wrote his student thesis, he tells us, on Marlowe and brings a lifetime's linguistic and fictional gifts to this headlong, shining, cruel portrait of a terrifying-but posthumously glorious-age. (May)
Reviewed on: 05/01/1995
Release date: 05/01/1995
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