FORGOTTEN GEM: Anthony Burgess “Honey For The Bears”

I returned to South Africa a couple of months ago and found this tattered book lying on my mothers’ book shelf. Realising it was from the author of “A Clockwork Orange” I decided to delve into its pages. I need to state from the beginning that I have not actually read “A Clockwork Orange”, I have just seen the play and the film.

What I am about to write in the body of this review is probably entirely a contradiction in terms of the point of a forgotten gem. This book should not be read. It should probably not even be remembered and one step further than that it will probably make you not want to read another Anthony Burgess novel again. In short, withholding all of the apparent tragic-comedy from the summary, Paul Hussey and his wife, Belinda, sail to Russia, during the communist era, to try to illegally sell drilon dresses. These dresses have been acquired from friends, the husband having passed away and the widow needing the dresses sold to help her live out her widowhood. Once disembarked of the ship things go from bad to the ridiculous with Belinda in hospital and Paul, from the get go being followed by the Russian police and having a rather destructive penchant for alcohol.

This book is meant to be funny, and for the first couple of chapters you are lulled into a sense of security. There are a couple of slightly weird and wonderful moments that make this book seem like something that for the two hundred pages that it is, will give you the odd snigger and tell you a good story. But then your hopes are dashed against the largest cliffs ever conceived. I am talking even larger than those massive hanging rocks that take down lots of large blue people in Avatar. The hero is whiny, drunken, useless and frankly lacking in any characteristic that is remotely endearing to the reader. His wife is even worse. She complains about being ill, then she complains about Russia, and then she complains about being ill again. In-between all the complaining she gets drunk so that she can justify even more complaining.

I am not quite sure how I managed to get through this novel. The enduring hope that this is the author who created “A Clockwork Orange”, so he surely cannot have written something this bad, may have had something to do with it. Also its attempts at trying to comment on politics and sexuality within the context of communism versus capitalism may have also contributed to the idea that once started, “Honey For The Bears” must be finished. It also has a great title. It allows for the double meaning of capitalism versus communism featuring as either the honey or the bears depending on how you wish to view the novel, assume you wish to view it all after having read what I’ve written.

So in terms of why it has been forgotten. Well it should have been. Therefore should you bother reading it. No. But it does have one redeeming feature. As a woman, great unique female monologues are incredibly hard to find. Part Two, Chapter Eight is a letter written by Belinda to Paul and as a monologue of fluctuating female emotion it is brilliant. It is a portrayal of a woman completely insane and at the same time completely in her right mind. It has a story and a trajectory and even a couple of little surprises. So, ladies, if you are ever having a look for something slightly different, take a look.

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