When you’re a curious school-child who trips over an enthralling writer on your journey down the shelves in your local library, you don’t dream that he will one day review your first novel. By the age of about 16 I was so repelled by the tweedy self-satisfaction of the fashionable British novelists of the time that I was ready to be dazzled by an author whose imagination had never been hobbled in an Oxbridge common room, who disdained the ‘Hampstead novel,’ who instead saw the wide world clearly and brought wisdom to recording the bloody past and projecting a terrible future.
More than twenty years later I wrote my first novel, ambitious but still women’s genre fiction destined for big sales at airports. I believe it was Sebastian Faulks, literary editor of The Independent, who sent my book to Anthony Burgess for review, no doubt hoping for that this literary titan would crush it from his great intellectual height. The choice had some logic, as my novel was partly set in Malaysia. Instead, Burgess confessed that its narrative had had the power to divert his attention from the Monaco Grand Prix, praised the book for what it was, compliment my research and called my grammar ‘immaculate.’ I remember reading this review in my garden, and feeling as if a great golden cloud had drifted down from the sky to enfold me. I felt that I would never need to prove anything to anyone ever again – not correctly, of course, but it was wonderful while it lasted. What a sign of greatness, to be so generous to a lesser talent.
Celia Brayfield is a novelist, journalist and academic. Her first novel Pearls was reviewed by Burgess on its publication in 1986. She has since written eight more novels, the most recent being Wild Weekend (2004). She is currently a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University.