In much of Anthony Burgess’s fiction, there are overt references to his home town, even in those novels that have nothing to do with Manchester – be it some minor character having a Mancunian accent, or one of the city’s landmarks being referred to fleetingly: Belle Vue Zoo cited during an unsatisfactory meal in Singapore in The Right To An Answer, for example. Sometimes there is a location or street name that can be traced back to Burgess’s own childhood, such as the London café in 1985 called ‘Crumpsall’s Yumbox’ (the infant Burgess and his father moving to live in Higher Crumpsall with relatives after his mother and sister had died in 1918).
Even those novels set in ‘Bradcaster’, Burgess’s fictional version of Manchester, occasionally namecheck the city. In One Hand Clapping the roll-call of winners of the annual Manchester Handicap steeplechase is recited; whilst in the Cold War thriller, Tremor of Intent, there is the description of a scholarship awaiting the scientist defector, Roper, back at Manchester University. Even in Earthly Powers, an epic novel spanning more than half a century and almost the entire globe, the narrator Kenneth Toomey’s beloved friend, Philip, reminisces: ‘I haven’t been with a woman since I was a student in Manchester.’
I would argue that there is more of Manchester in A Clockwork Orange than in any of his other novels. Burgess’s dystopia has a non-specific setting and, despite there being no direct references to Manchester within the text, certainly not in a geographical sense, I believe that the city – or at least the spirit of the city – is in there, ghosting between the lines, in more ways than even Burgess himself probably realised.
By Stuart Bolton.