In MEMOIRS, Kingsley Amis has put together a selection of sketches and essays that profile some of his famous friends and acquaintances and recall periods from his past that lend themselves to good stories. If a person, place, or event does not pass the Amis test of what makes for a good story, then it has not found its way into MEMOIRS. It seems to be his estimation that unflattering anecdotes make for the best read. The sketches make up the largest portion of this volume. Some of the famous individuals who are the victims of his harsh words include John Wain, Arnold Wesker, Roald Dahl, Leo Rosten, Dylan Thomas, and Francis Bacon. Amis is not without a kind word for those talented few whom he does respect, such as Philip Larkin, Anthony Powell, Elizabeth Taylor (the novelist) and Tibor Szamuely.
The most rewarding and insightful parts of the MEMOIRS can be found in the essays. The essays that speak of his childhood and education are wonderfully illuminating, as is the essay that concerns his time in the army. Amis always seems to stop short though of revealing too much about himself. He would probably think it too self-indulgent to dwell on or endeavor to explain the writer’s life which he has led. He seems to have come to the conclusion that neither his married life nor his daily routine make for interesting stories. He does admit to rarely having turned down a drink of whiskey or other strong spirits.
There are many anecdotes in MEMOIRS that are fun to read and that show Amis in true form for the irreverent. But the reader may also come away with a feeling of being cheated. Those who respect Amis as a witty storyteller will hope that before he attempts another memoir he will come to the realization that insight makes for a far more credible product than mere anecdote.