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Anthony Burgess: Napoleon Symphony

Burgess’ novel of Napoleon (yes, that Napoleon) didn’t really work for me. Napoleon is neither a sympathetic nor complex character. Indeed, his character in this novel can be summed up by his Italian opera singer’s view of him – Nessuna tenerezza, non un briciolo di pazienza. [No tenderness, not a shred of patience.] He wants to get in, get it done and get out, whether it is women, war or politics. We follow his career, from his initial military victories to his autopsy, both from his perspective and from that of others and, while Burgess tries to lay it on, keeping the action going at a furious pace, digging at Napoleon for his complex about the English and, of course, playing his language games, frankly it doesn’t really work.

Publishing history

First published 1974 by Jonathan Cape