The critical debate about Melvin Burgess’s fiction has inevitably been dominated by attention given to those novels which deal explicitly with drugs, sex and violence. As a result, other texts which also exhibit his characteristic immediacy of impact and narrative complexity, and which confront equally important but less ‘sensational’ issues, have sometimes been neglected. Junk (1996), Lady: My Life as a Bitch (2001) and Doing It (2003) are well known, even to the extent of notoriety, and have attracted much attention, both popular and academic, but relatively little has been written about some of his other books. The three shorter novels highlighted in the discussion which follows, An Angel for May (1992)Loving April (1995) and The Ghost behind the Wall (2000),1 rarely feature in critical discussion, because they omit the more explicit portrayal of sex and violence for which Burgess is probably best known. Nevertheless, they exhibit the qualities for which he is justly esteemed: immediate impact; a tendency to force the reader to identify with the painful feelings of characters in traumatic situations; and a transgression of the boundaries as to what is acceptable in fiction for the young, including language that until fairly recently would have been regarded as too explicit for them. It has been generally more relevant to scrutinize the chosen texts in the light of studies involving the portrayal of elderly or disabled characters than to look at them in the context of other criticism of Burgess’s work.
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- ‘You Know What I Mean’: The Development of Relationships between Socially Isolated Characters in An Angel for May, Loving April and The Ghost behind the Wall
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