AMIS, Kingsley (1922–95) British writer of novels, poems and non-fiction
In the 1950s, when Amis’s writing career began, British writers of all kinds – the ‘angry young men’ – had begun to rant in plays, films and novels about the unfairness, snobbishness and priggishness of life. Whingeing became an artistic form – and Amis’s novels showed its funny side. The working-class hero of Lucky Jim (1954) tries to conform with his madrigal-singing, right-newspaper-reading, winesavouring university colleagues, and in the process shows them up for the pretentious fools they are. The central character of That Uncertain Feeling, a small-town librarian, thinks that devastating sexual charm will carry him to the pinnacle of local society; the results are farcical. The hero of Take a Girl Like You (1960) finds it hard to persuade anyone else in his circle that ‘free love’ and ‘the swinging sixties’ are the good things glossy magazines crack them up to be. In the 1960s and 1970s Amis’s farcical fires burned low. He began to affect a ponderous, self-consciously right-wing fuddy-duddiness, and abandoned satire for books of other kinds (a ghost story, a James Bond spy story and several science fiction books). In the 1980s, however, he returned to the satirical muttering he always did better than any of his imitators – and his later books (beginning with The Old Devils, see below) are among his funniest.
THE OLD DEVILS (1986)
A group of old men, acquaintances for over 40 years, meet daily in a Welsh bar to grumble. They are obsessed by failure, their own and the world’s. They are especially vitriolic about other people’s success – and their discomfort with the world is brought to a peak when one of their ‘friends’, a famous TV Welshman and an expert on a Dylan-Thomasish poet, comes to settle in the town. The best of Amis’s comic novels not mentioned above are One Fat Englishman, Ending Up, The Folks Who Live on the Hill and Difficulties With Girls (a 1988 sequel to Take a Girl Like You).
The best of his serious novels are The AntiDeath League, about a top-secret army unit whose aim is to abolish death, and The Alteration, set in a fantasy contemporary Britain in which modern science and modern religion have never happened, so that we are still organizing our lives in medieval ways. His Memoirs are gleefully malicious pen portraits of two dozen former friends, devastatingly satirical or distasteful according to your mood.
Jake’s Thing; Stanley and the Women; The Russian Girl. >> Malcolm Bradbury, Eating People is Wrong; A.N. Wilson, Love Unknown; Christopher Hope, Serenity House; >> Tom Sharpe, Porterhouse Blue; >> William Boyd, A Good Man in Africa; >> Howard Jacobson, Peeping Tom; William Cooper, Scenes from Provincial Life.
Source Credits: Nick Rennison, Good Reading Guide: Discover Your Next Great Read, Bloomsbury Publishing, Seventh Edition