The Anti-Egotist

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Paul Fussell is the author of many well-respected books, including SAMUEL JOHNSON AND THE LIFE OF WRITING (1971), THE GREAT WAR AND MODERN MEMORY (1975), THE BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK AND OTHER OBSERVATIONS (1982), and THANK GOD FOR THE ATOM BOMB AND OTHER ESSAYS (1988). Kingsley Amis, who died in October of 1995 at the age of seventy-three, first won critical acclaim for his novel LUCKY JIM (1954). Although Amis has written both poetry and nonfiction, he has been almost exclusively thought of as a novelist. In THE ANTI-EGOTIST, Fussell has taken on the task of remedying the situation. As the subtitle “Man of Letters” suggests, Fussell feels that Amis should be measured as a literary figure by more than merely his fiction. Amis was both famous and notorious for his cutting wit. Over the years, Fussell has proven in his own publications that he is eminently capable of stinging remarks himself. The book makes evident that Fussell is both a friend and admirer of Amis.

In recent years, Amis had gained a reputation as a political and cultural reactionary. Fussell defends Amis up to a point. It seems clear that Fussell does not want to derail his main thrust in THE ANTI-EGOTIST by dwelling on various political arguments. Fussell focuses primarily on what makes Amis such a commanding literary figure. Whether writing a review of a prestigious restaurant or commenting on a major work of fiction, Amis seems to always prefer substance over style. Fussell fills the book liberally with some of Amis’s most entertaining and powerful quotes. As a critic, Amis was often quite merciless. In the ever-changing literary world, some of Amis’s opinions have come to be considered in academic circles as Victorian. THE ANTI-EGOTIST succeeds as a starting point to understanding Kingsley Amis more fully as an author who hated pretense and loved the English language with a passion. Although Fussell has probably not written the last word on Amis, he has fired a shot across the bow of any critic who comes later and thinks that he or she is up to the task of tackling the feisty Amis.