June 19, 2007


PD Smith

the wonderful thing about literature is that some writers are indeed able to improve on perfection. That's what keeps us all reading...

Many thanks for the Amis url.

Coll B. Lue

Thank you for this brilliant blog on Amis -Lucky Jim is just the best humorous novel there is and funnily enough whenever we had lectures by one David Conway :o) a brilliant sociologist lecturer, I kept thinking he'd do something remarkably hilarious as Jim in the novel!

Yes I'd also hope Amis would have produced another such remarkably superb novel - hence I didn't read his other novels.

michael gorra

A late friend, who reread Lucky Jim annually, once told me that some of the life went out of it after tenure...And I must have remembered that, because I don't think I've read the book since getting it myself. On the other hand, some of the so-called minor genre stuff is wonderful--I'm especially fond of The Alteration.

Underinvestigated topic--stylistic similarities between Kingsley and Martin. Somerthing about the way they both use adjectives and epithets makes me think they're a lot closer than they might seem.


It seems that Amis Sr is now as notorious for being neglected as Amis Jr is for being overpromoted. I must confess to not understanding the apparent mystery behind this neglect. The reason for it is surely sound and obvious: the novels just aren't very good. Even Lucky Jim isn't very good. What it is, as the good Mr Sarvas points out, is "perfect" - which might actually be the problem.

The book is well ordered, well planned, and well written. The jokes come trotting along at a steady rate wearing handy joke badges. There is a rudimentary human-interest component to the plot: a milquetoast romance. But there is no risk in the book at all. The social targets are soft, and absorb the mild ribbing Amis gives them.

And this is the surprising thing about all of Amis's novels (with the exception of 'Stanley and the Women', which is bad, but heartfelt to an alarming degree): they are soft in heart and mind. They insist upon harmony at the end - often using the most implausible means to get there.
This is perhaps surprising, given that Amis didn't mince his words in works of discourse, nor in his private letters and diaries, but it does point to something almost perversely self-limiting in his work. He so much distrusted tragedy and tragic conceptions of life that he rather too programmatically applied their opposite - or what he took to be their opposite.

He was fundamentally wrong about this. A great comedy will, among other things, challenge your idea of what comedy is; a middling one will merely confirm a pre-existing idea. Amis's novels are settled, static, and a little too comfortable with their own limits and achievements.


"There is no risk in the book at all. The social targets are soft," he said from the year 2007.

Different story in 1954, when Lucky Jim won Mr. Amis entry into the Angry Young Men club.

Steven Augustine

For my money, "The Old Devils" is Amis's masterpiece...a valuable little chunk of literary hi-tech. It isn't often that I laugh out loud during a book's third reading, so, there's that. Plus interesting transcriptions of actual conversations between Amis junior and senior (as we learn from junior's Experience) and jabs at Jane Howard and Dylan Thomas to boot.

Who cares that Amis grew into a cartoon curmudgeon? Won't we all (if we're honest)?

Kit Stolz

For better or worse, Americans judge books not just by what's on the page. As Emerson said, behind the book stands the man. And there is something bizarre about Kingsley Amis, a drunken humorist, telling us about what is right and what is wrong. Evelyn Waugh wasn't so popular in this country either, was he?


"Different story in 1954, when Lucky Jim won Mr. Amis entry into the Angry Young Men club"

Not quite true. Lucky Jim is glancingly funny and genuinely acute on the culture of redbrick universities that sprung up around Britain in the 50s (in particular the nervous self-seriousness of the professors), but it was Amis's journalistic comments on the spread of third-level education ("More will mean worse") that saw him tagged with the Angry Young Men.


I can't argue with your impressions of Lucky Jim; if you find it glancingly funny, you find it glancingly funny. But it would only be fair to say it was received much more kindly than that in England at the time of its publication. It is routinely cited as the novel that set the tone for the post-WWII, British comic novel. And I'd argue it's very hard for us to understand how culturally aggressive it was at the time, when the Brits weren't yet crying in the streets over Lady Di.

From Issue 70 of International Socialism:

A similar process can be seen in the way the early fiction of Amis developed. His first novel, Lucky Jim, which was dedicated to Philip Larkin, came as a breath of fresh air in the stale world of 1950s fiction, much as two years later John Osborne's Look Back in Anger did the same for the staid world of genteel drama. It identified Amis as one of the 'Angry Young Men' of the period - irreverent and iconoclastic, in revolt against the establishment and its culture.

Rory O'Connor

Actually the Black Papers ("more will mean worse") were in the seventies, by which time time KA was in apprenticeship for Angry Old Man. But all this AYM stuff is boring anyway.

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