The Long Day Wanes, Anthony Burgess

I picked this up because Burgess is on my list of well-respected “literary” SF writers who I haven’t read. Of course, Burgess didn’t even write much SF, and this certainly isn’t. The Long Day Wanes is an omnibus of Burgess’ “Malayan trilogy”, Time for a Tiger, The Enemy in the Blanket, and Beds in the East. The trilogy follows Victor Crabbe, an expatriate educator in the late days of British rule in what was then Malaya (now Malaysia). Crabbe initially is seen suffering from guilt at the death of his first wife, and unable to maintain a relationship with his second wife. He deals with the beaurocracy of colonial government and with the incipient ethnic conflict of a soon-to-be-independent multi-ethnic country.

While Wikipedia compares Burgess to Kipling and Orwell, I found a better comparison might be Evelyn Waugh. Like Waugh, Burgess writes with a good chunk of satirical humor at the expense of various typical characters, and both authors wrote on the theme of the declining importance of Britain (and the British) on the world stage. Like Waugh in, for example, A Handful of Dust, Burgess ends with a surprising and pathetic twist to the story.

The Long Day Wanes was not just a collection of three novels, but also holds together well as a whole. The character sketches are the highlight, but its also interesting as a historical portrait of the end of pre-independence Malaya, and of British colonial society.

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