Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Since 1955, when he won the Somerset Maugham Award for his first novel, Lucky Jim (1954), Kingsley Amis has been celebrated as a writer of comic genius who protects nothing from satirical scrutiny. Jake Richardson, the hero of Jake’s Thing, Amis’ fifteenth novel, is an elderly version of Jim Dixon, although Jake’s enervation contrasts sharply with the optimistic energy the young Jim had exhibited twenty-four years earlier.

Jake’s Thing satirizes aspects of culture which Amis explored before in such novels as I Like It Here (1958), which takes aim at social pretensions, and Girl, 20 (1971), an attack on the liberal sexual mores and radical politics of the 1960’s counterculture. In his portrait of Jake Richardson, a fifty-nine-year-old Oxford professor in failing health who is uncomfortable with the drastic changes in society since the last world war, Amis also draws on the theme of the incapability and isolation of old age which he developed in Ending Up (1974).

Although Amis has been careful in interviews to distinguish between his own views and those of Jake, clearly he likes Jake well enough to carry his essential spirit forward to Stanley and the Women (1984). Like Jake, Stanley Duke endures abuse from women and rejects the destructive nonsense of the psychiatric profession. Both novels exploit a motif which resounds in Amis’ mature work: a growing impatience with the fashionable cant of contemporary culture.