Kingsley Amis

By: Mark Kingwell
April 16, 2010

In a late novel by the English writer, professional drinker, jazz expert, science-fiction anthologist, James Bond aficionado, and sex enthusiast KINGSLEY AMIS (1922-1995), a character wonders what is must be like for an artist to know that his very first work might be his best. Amis must have wondered himself. His debut novel, Lucky Jim (1954), a tale of life at a provincial university in the period after the Second World War, is as near to pitch-perfect satire as you are likely to find in English. He followed it with a long string of reliably funny and stylistically clever novels, including Take A Girl Like You (1960), Jake’s Thing (1978), and The Old Devils (1986), which won him the Booker Prize, but none with the revelatory impact of the first, which established his voice of unmatched irreverence and hatred of boredom. What other writer would describe his protagonist as subjected to “some skein of untiring facetiousness by filthy Mozart,” “some Brahms rubbish,” and “a violin sonata by some Teutonic bore”? During his long writing life Amis managed to move, as one contemporary put it, from angry young man to cranky old fart without a hitch. In later years he was a conservative bully whose drunken belligerence robbed him of all charm, but his prose never lost its punch, and both his score-settling autobiography and his writings on drink supplement the novels with distinction. Even his post-Fleming Bond novel, Colonel Sun (1968), is pretty good. Of the poetry we say nothing.

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BRITISH HUMORISTS as HILO HEROES: Tony Hancock | James Joyce | Peter Sellers | Edward Lear | Jerome K. Jerome | Jimmy Finlayson | Stan Laurel | Screaming Lord Sutch | Eric Idle | Roald Dahl | Joanna Lumley | Keith Allen | Ricky Gervais | Steve Coogan | Sacha Baron Cohen | Stephen Merchant | PG Wodehouse | Flann O’Brien | Samuel Beckett | Kingsley Amis | Tommy Cooper

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What do you think?

  1. tippety-top, particularly the last line. have you read his book *about* bond, mark? i find it funnier than any of his novels.

  2. Now that all the queen’s subjects among us have weighed in, I’d like to add a democrat’s kudos: you nailed it, Mark. Lucky Jim is brilliant, the rest merely very good, and of the poetry, etc. etc. I don’t think Amis’ Bond novel is particularly good, and his science fiction criticism is too political; i.e., although he has excellent taste in quality SF, his dismissal of the utopian SF of the genre’s Radium Age on the grounds of style is suspect!

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