Sometimes I’m asked to list ‘the best gay novels ever’, and I often put this at Number One. Burgess isn’t thought of as a ‘gay writer’, although you don’t have to dig too far to figure out that he was at the very least bisexual. But Earthly Powers is nothing less than a 20th-century history viewed through the prism of homosexuality and homophobia, focusing on Catholicism, Nazism and just about every other ‘ism’ that matters. Like all Burgess it’s extremely funny and erudite, but for once he really seemed to be writing from the heart, rather than in response to an interesting literary idea. And how can you resist a book with the opening sentence ‘It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me’? Burgess’s reputation seems to be in eclipse at the moment, which puzzles me because even his slighter novels have more to them than the works of Barnes, Rushdie, McEwan et al. At his best – and this is his very best – he’s the greatest of the post-War English novelists. Which must mean this is the greatest post-War English novel. There.