Other books byKingsley Amis
One Fat Englishman
The hero of One Fat Englishman, a literary publisher and lapsed Catholic escaped from the pages of Graham Greene to the campus of Budweiser College in provincial Pennsylvania, is philandering, drunken, bigoted, and very very fat, not to mention in a state of continuous spluttering rage against everything, not least his own overgrown self. In America, Roger Micheldene must deal with not so obliging suburban housewives, aspiring Jewish novelists who as good as clean his clock, stray deer, bad cigars, children who beat him at Scrabble (“It was no wonder that people were horrible when they started life as children”), and America itself, while making ever-more desperate and humiliating overtures to Helen, a Scandinavian ice queen. If only Roger would dare to show some real feeling of his own. This comic masterpiece—about the 1950s crashing drunkenly into the consumerist 1960s and a final scion of a disintegrating Old World empire encountering its upstart New World offspring—is one of Kingsley Amis’s greatest and most caustic performances.
Kingsley Amis, along with being the funniest English writer of his generation was a great chronicler of the fads and absurdities of his age, and Girl, 20 is a delightfully incisive dissection of the flower-power phase of the 1960s. Amis’s antihero, Sir Roy Vandervane, a conductor and composer who bears more than a passing resemblance to Leonard Bernstein, is a pillar of the establishment whohas fallen hard for protest, bellbottoms, and the electric guitar. And since vain Sir Vandervane is a great success, he is also free to pursue his greatest failing: a taste for younger and younger women. Highborn hippie Sylvia (not, in fact, twenty) is his latest infatuation and a threat to his whole family, from his drama-queen wife, Kitty, to Penny, his long-suffering daughter. All this is recounted by Douglas Yandell, a music critic with his own love problems, who finds that he too has a part in this story of botched artistry, bumbling celebrity, and scheming family, in a time that for all its high-minded talk is as low and dishonest as any other.
Regarded by many as the finest, and funniest, comic novel of the twentieth century, Lucky Jim remains as trenchant, withering, and eloquently misanthropic as when it first scandalized readers in 1954. This is the story of Jim Dixon, a hapless lecturer in medieval history at a provincial university who knows better than most that “there was no end to the ways in which nice things are nicer than nasty ones.” Kingsley Amis’s scabrous debut leads the reader through a gallery of emphatically English bores, cranks, frauds, and neurotics with whom Dixon must contend in one way or another in order to hold on to his cushy academic perch and win the girl of his fancy. More than just a merciless satire of cloistered college life and stuffy postwar manners, Lucky Jim is an attack on the forces of boredom, whatever form they may take, and a work of art that at once distills and extends an entire tradition of English comic writing, from Fielding and Dickens through Wodehouse and Waugh. As Christopher Hitchens has written, “If you can picture Bertie or Jeeves being capable of actual malice, and simultaneously imagine Evelyn Waugh forgetting about original sin, you have the combination of innocence and experience that makes this short romp so imperishable.”
The Green Man
Maurice Allington has reached middle age and is haunted by death. As he says, “I honestly can’t see why everybody who isn’t a child, everybody who’s theoretically old enough to have understood what death means, doesn’t spend all his time thinking about it. It’s a pretty arresting thought.” He also happens to own and run a country inn that is haunted. The Green Man opens as Maurice’s father drops dead (had he seen something in the room?) and continues as friends and family convene for the funeral. Maurice’s problems are many and increasing: How to deal with his own declining health? How to reach out to a teenage daughter who watches TV all the time? How to get his best friend’s wife in the sack? How to find another drink? (And another.) And then there is always death. The Green Man is a ghost story that hits a live nerve, a very black comedy with an uncannily happy ending: in other words, Kingsley Amis at his best.