Anthony Burgess had a complex view of popular fiction. He was quick to support novels by popular writers such as Ian Fleming and Len Deighton, though his support was not devoid of criticism. Of Deighton’s Bomber (1970), he writes, ‘Deighton’s gift is not Jamesian: he is weak on poetic prose and moral involutions, his technique is more documentary than novelistic. But he represents a new and important strain in contemporary fiction and is to be admired for his courage’.
In the following article, originally written for Corriere della Serra, Burgess bemoans the term ‘Bestseller’ as a purely commercial (rather than aesthetic) indicator of quality. Burgess was an enthusiastic supporter of literary art, and this article is a rather grumpy rebuke of the publishers who are ‘concerned with the marketing of fantasy machines’.