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The Old Devils by Kingsley Amis

From:     J
Category: Books
Date:     10 March 2008
Time:     05:37 PM


Odd that Amis should have written only two very good novels, Lucky Jim, his first, and one of his last, 
The Old Devils. All the brilliance of Jim is here and little of the tedious, I'm winding you up by being 
unPC racism/sexism, and not too much of the cliched philanderer,  the Amis avatar, with an eye for 
the ladies and a fat bullshit detector, or even the heart of gold love interest, who accepts the happy go 
lucky existentialist  (too froggy a term for Kingsley to use) warts and all.

Amis seems to solve the problem of his earlier novels by writing about a group of oldish men and 
women from their different viewpoints, the device taking him outside of his comfort zone, and giving 
their views, offensive or not, a non-authorial voice. What we get is the startling beautiful accuracy of 
Amis's observations of real people (men AND women for once) leading their shabby real lives. With 
his clumsy way of trying to describe the physicality of actions, making them seem more complicated 
that they are and leaving you trying to decipher what's going on, he alludes to aging (though this is 
part of his style in all his novels) but more to the details of existence, like looking at a very high 
resolution photo, you realise that what seems simple has a lot more texture and interest than you 
thought at first glance.

Not just that, he describes beautifully the sheer nastiness of Britain, in this case Wales, the horrid 
food, houses, and pubs, while still preserving an attractive zest for it all which makes you seriously 
think of visiting south Wales and drinking all day in the pub. The evil and nice ways people speak to 
each other and their thoughts, said and unsaid, are also part of this book's brilliance, and he of 
course has his set piece moments of comedy at weddings, official functions and the like. 

Essentially a book with a happy ending, I had always avoided it because it looked so depressing. If 
not exactly uplifting, it at least challenges the Yank dominance of great late 20thC writing, and if you 
only read one book by Amis, read Lucky J and this. 

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