Short Takes: Kingsley Amis
I have nothing against Amis at all, these are all fairly decent to pretty awesome books. But you have to think that some of Amis’s current reputations rests on his personal history as a raconteur and amusing dinner companion. And how long is something like that really going to last?
In addition to the novels mentioned below, I have read, in the past, Amis’s The Alteration, which is an “alternative world” SF novel and not bad, as I remember -- it posits a world where the Reformation never happened and it’s hero, if I remember right, fights bravely but fails against his ultimate fate/future of being a eunuch. (This is Amis, remember, who’s two big topics are sex and self-loathing, and whose best books manage to smash the two about.) I’ve also read Colonel Sun, Amis’s hack at the Bond series, which I remember being not bad but a bit stuffy and not quite fitting Fleming’s style. (Fleming was far more of an aesthete and sybarite than Amis, far “looser”.) And I think sometime in the past I dipped into Amis’s really great book on drink -- he councils a kind of “milk punch” in the morning, I remember, made of frozen milk ice cubs and brandy. He said it would be good first thing in the morning, before one flew.
I tried it. It wasn’t It’s still a great book, though.
Lucky Jim is the one that everyone calls a classic -- probably is, at least if you want to think about it in historical terms. It’s unusual in that it has something of a happy ending, something Amis’s books mostly avoid like sin. (Although none of his characters avoid sin! Hah! Good one!) It’s charming and often humorous, although I didn’t exactly bust a gut laughing. Whenever you read about “comedy” in books I personally would adjust my expectations down a notch or two or three. What’s most interesting in Lucky Jim is the notion of socialism as a kind of young man’s revolt from the stifling confines of society -- this explains a great deal of the leftism of Bohemianism in general and of the post-war period in particular. Although I still think the primary reason for it is a kind of “revenge” against the society that most artists feel shut out off. The Sex Pistols and Malcom McClaren, in one of his brighter moments, are on point here, all that stuff about “in a society that precludes adventure, destroying it is the only adventure left” etc.
Worth reading? I dunno. Do you want to say you’ve read it? One of those kind of books.
I prefer One Fat Englishman, which is about two hundred pages of self-loathing, not exactly a great novel but a really impressive thing to experience, nonetheless; Girl, 20, I think all in all Amis’s best book, where his themes of sexual selfishness and general societal loathing coalesce in a real gripping downer, capped off with one of the saddest endings I’ve read anywhere recently; and The Green Man, I think Amis’s best stab at a genre piece, a ghost story that again, unites self-loathing and sexual selfishness in a really interesting way -- who knows what Amis thought, but the protagonist of Green Man is rather what I assumed Amis was, and his last sort of hopeful wish for death as an escape from himself seemed to ring very true, like it was coming from somewhere deep. (Somewhere in all this was Take a Girl Like You, which is Amis writing from the female point of view. Despite all the obvious sweat and effort that went into it, I couldn’t get into it, as it were. Amis writing from a female point of view? Much like Chandler, he’s just too defiantly masculine -- in his own way -- for that to work.)
I haven’t forgotten the whole “let’s see what’s online” thing, it’s just that the last few writers surprisingly enough had some stuff online. Plus I’ve just been trying to kickstart this thing again in general. The next one’s Robert Ludlum, and we’ll definitely do it for him.