Thursday, January 3, 2013

Fiction: Honey for the Bears by Anthony Burgess

Publisher: Ballantine Books
Date: 1963
Format: paperback
Source: purchased used
Read: for the 2013 TBR Pile Challenge
Pages: 225
Reading time: two days

Paul Hussey, British antiques dealer, and his American wife are off to Russia. As a favor for the widow of a deceased friend, they are to smuggle dozens of drilon dresses into the USSR to sell to the state's material goods-hungry citizens. But when Mrs. Hussey is admitted to a St. Petersburg hospital to receive treatment for a painful rash and Mr. Hussey is investigated by Russian agents, the couple realizes they are in over their heads in this satire of the Cold War and Anglo-Soviet relations.

Being a satire, Honey for the Bears is billed as being "comic," but the humor just didn't quite catch with me. Mostly because it was dry. Soooo dry. It doesn't help that Burgess is a very 'literary' author who uses lots of highfalutin' words, and my little teenage brain is used to more puerile high school and college humor. Also, I'm not British and living through the Cold War in the early 1960s, so the book has lost much of the context it would have had for more contemporary readers. But this was still an enjoyable read, almost surreal at points. It was quite interesting to see what in the world could happen next to Paul Hussey and how (if?) he was going to make it out of the USSR. Some of Burgess's themes (i.e., homosexuality) were a bit unexpected, and others (freedom, Communism vs. capitalism) left me wondering how Burgess intended them to be interpreted.

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