‘How to muzzle Anthony Burgess’: Re-Staging Marlowe’s Murder in Iain Sinclair and Dave McKean’s Slow Chocolate Autopsy

Christopher Orchard


Slow Chocolate Autopsy (1997) is a multi-media novel that is a collaboration between the poet and novelist Iain Sinclair and the graphic illustrator, Dave McKean. It concerns the character Norton, a time-traveller, who is trapped in the layers of London’s historically violent past and is seeking to utilise the river Thames as his passage out of  the city. Many of the chapters reveal his angst at his entrapment and he is either instigating violence or is, more frequently, its victim. In the first chapter of  the novel, Norton is a witness to the last hours of Marlowe’s life. As he watches the action unfold on that fateful day in 1593, he realises that he ‘knew what was coming, the end of it”  His prophetic anticipation only applies to Marlowe’s death though since he does not foresee that he himself  will be his murderer. However, as he predicts the conclusion to the day’s events, Norton reveals his more immediate concern with the representations of Marlowe in the aftermath of his death. In particular his priority is determining 'How to muzzle Anthony Burgess', who had written the novel A Dead Man in Deptford (1993) about Marlowe’s life and death. This essay will explore why and how Sinclair is attempting to ‘muzzle’ Burgess's and biographical voices of Marlowe’s life by suggesting an alternative represention of Marlowe’s death. These questions can be answered through four approaches: first, by offering his own interpretation of the reckoning that challenges the choreographic description of the coroner’s report on which subsequent intepretations of Marlowe’s death are based; second, by downplaying  biographies’ emphases on the significance of Poley, Frizer and Skeres; third, by prioritising the first-person point of view of Norton; and fourth, by using  a psychogeographical reading of motive and behaviour, that uses the psychosis of location to explain human action, specifically the violence of the protagonists in 1593.



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