Gore Vidal used to like telling a story about the first time he met Anthony Burgess, in the mid-Sixties. It was at a posh reception, and the English novelist was accompanied by his difficult first wife, Lynne. She tackled Vidal with an aggression probably fuelled by booze (she died of cirrhosis of the liver a few years later) and bragged about how many books her husband had published: twenty-one. Fingers were produced, calculations made … Vidal had the higher score. Burgess, with exquisite gamesmanship, murmured that he was, of course, primarily a composer. Lynne was furious: ‘No, you’re not!’, she shouted at him.
But yes, he was, though throughout most of his first marriage he had to keep his nasty habit of putting dots on paper a secret, since Lynne thought – no doubt correctly – that he would never make money from music. Burgess survived her by a quarter of