Anthony Burgess's Malayan Trilogy

Tamara S. Wagner, Fellow, National University of Singapore

Burgess was writing his trilogy while living and working in Malaya in the 1950s. While he aimed to capture the historical significance of the moment, describing the turbulent years after the Emergency, proclaimed in the fear of a Communist take-over, up to independence, it is therefore of course not a historical work. Nevertheless, in its emphasis on the last days of British colonial influence, its panoramic depiction of the lives of a range of characters of different backgrounds and ethnicities, and its wry humour, it has repeatedly been compared to Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet, which had done for India what Burgess’s A Malayan Trilogy had meant to do for Malaya. In contrast to Scott’s influential quartet of historical novels, however, it is now rarely read. Burgess is remembered best, if not exclusively, for his Dystopian novel, A Clockwork Orange, not least due to Kubrick’s film version. Yet Burgess’s Malayan novels are an important stepping-stone in the development of postcolonial fiction in its detailing of the slow demise or changing nature of colonial (or “post-” and “neo-colonial”) influence after official and unofficial ends of colonial days. In its assessments of the historical significance of the recent past and contemporary events, A Malayan Trilogy has more recently been likened to Christopher New’s China Coast Trilogy, a series of historical novels that deals with the British presence in Shanghai and Hong Kong and, in the final part of the trilogy, with Hong Kong’s impending return to China as it is perceived by the characters in the early eighties.

Published as one volume in the sixties under the title The Long Day Wanes: A Malayan Trilogy, the trilogy comprises Time for A Tiger (1956), The Enemy in the Blanket (1958), and Beds in the East (1959). Although Victor Crabbe cannot be called a central or main protagonist, his presence in all three novels links them together, his slow physical demise and eventual drowning mirroring the demise of the British influence in Malaya.

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Last Modified: 24 October 2002