Kingsley Amis Long Fiction Analysis

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5160

Kingsley Amis’s fiction is characterized by a recurring preoccupation with certain themes and concepts, with certain basic human experiences, attitudes, and perceptions. These persistent themes are treated with enormous variety, however, particularly in Amis’s novels that draw on theconventions of genre fiction—the mystery, the spy thriller, the ghost story, and...

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Kingsley Amis’s fiction is characterized by a recurring preoccupation with certain themes and concepts, with certain basic human experiences, attitudes, and perceptions. These persistent themes are treated with enormous variety, however, particularly in Amis’s novels that draw on theconventions of genre fiction—the mystery, the spy thriller, the ghost story, and so on. Of the more than twenty novels Amis published, his development as a seriocomic novelist is especially apparent in Lucky Jim, Take a Girl Like You, The Anti-Death League, The Green Man, The Old Devils, The Folks That Live on the Hill, and The Russian Girl, his most substantial and complex works, each of which is representative of a specific stage in his career. All these novels are set in contemporary England. Drawing on a variety of traditional techniques of good storytelling—good and bad characters, simple irony, straightforward plot structure, clear point of view—they restate, in a variety of ways, the traditional pattern of tragedy: A man, divided and complex, vulnerable both to the world and to himself, is forced to make choices that will determine his destiny. Built into this situation is the probability that he will bring down suffering on his head and injure others in the process.

In Lucky Jim, for example, Amis establishes a comic acceptance of many of life’s injustices in the academic world. The novel is distinguished by clear-cut cases of right and wrong, a simple irony, and knockabout farce. Because he has neither the courage nor the economic security to protest openly, the hero lives a highly comic secret life of protest consisting of practical jokes and rude faces, all directed against the hypocrisy and pseudointellectualism of certain members of the British establishment. While only hinted at in Lucky Jim, Amis’s moral seriousness becomes increasingly evident beginning with Take a Girl Like You. Whereas in Lucky Jim the values are “hidden” beneath a comic narrative, gradually the comedy is submerged beneath a more serious treatment. Take a Girl Like You is thus a turning point for Amis in a number of ways: The characterization is more complex, the moral problems are more intense, and the point of view is not limited to one central character. Distinguished also by a better balance between the comic and the serious, the novel is more pessimistic than its predecessors, less given to horseplay and high spirits.

In later novels such as The Anti-Death League and The Green Man, Amis continues to see life more darkly, shifting to an increasingly metaphysical, even theological concern. Contemporary England is viewed as a wasteland of the spirit, and his characters try vainly to cope with a precarious world filled with madness and hysteria, a world in which love and religion have become distorted and vulgarized. Threatened with death and ugly accidents by a malicious God, Amis’s characters feel powerless to change and, in an attempt to regain control of their lives, act immorally. Amis’s ultimate vision is one in which all of the traditional certainties—faith, love, loyalty, responsibility, decency—have lost their power to comfort and sustain. Humanity is left groping in the dark of a nightmare world. In the later The Old Devils, Amis’s study of a Wales and a Welshness that have slipped out of reach forever clearly shows a culmination of his increasing damnation of Western society, portrayed through the microcosm of human relationships. The final picture is one of the aimlessness of old age, the meaninglessness of much of life itself.

Lucky Jim

In Lucky Jim, a bumbling, somewhat conscientious hero stumbles across the social and cultural landscape of contemporary British academic life, faces a number of crises of conscience, makes fun of the world and of himself, and eventually returns to the love of a sensible, realistic girl. This is the traditional comic course followed by Amis’s first three novels, of which Lucky Jim is the outstanding example. Beneath the horseplay and high spirits, however, Amis rhetorically manipulates readers’ moral judgment so that they leave the novel sympathetic to the hero’s point of view. By triumphing over an unrewarding job, a pretentious family, and a predatory female colleague, Dixon becomes the first in a long line of Amis’s heroes who stand for common sense and decency, for the belief that life is to be made happy now, and for the notion that “nice things are nicer than nasty things.”

To develop his moral concern, Amis divides his characters into two archetypal groups reminiscent of the fantasy tale: the generally praiseworthy figures, the ones who gain the greatest share of the reader’s sympathy; and the “evil” characters, those who obstruct the good characters. Jim Dixon (the put-upon young man), Gore-Urquhart (his benefactor or savior), and Christine Callaghan (the decent girl to whom Dixon turns) are among the former, distinguished by genuineness, sincerity, and a lack of pretense. Among the latter are Professor Welch (Dixon’s principal tormentor), Welch’s son, Bertrand (the defeated boaster), and the neurotic Margaret Peele (the thwarted “witch”), all of whom disguise their motives and present a false appearance.

One example should be enough to demonstrate Amis’s technique—the introduction to the seedy, absentminded historian, Professor Welch. In the opening chapter, Amis establishes an ironic discrepancy between what Welch seems to be (a scholar discussing history) and what he is in reality (a “vaudeville character” lecturing on the differences between flute and recorder). Although he tries to appear a cultured, sensitive intellectual, all of the images point to a charlatan leading a boring, selfish life. His desk is “misleadingly littered.” Once he is found standing, “surprisingly enough,” in front of the college library’s new-books shelf. Succeeding physical description undercuts his role-playing: He resembles “an old boxer,” “an African savage,” “a broken robot.” What is more, his speech and gestures are mechanized by cliché and affectation. Professing to worship “integrated village-type community life” and to oppose anything mechanical, he is himself a virtual automaton, and he becomes more so as the novel progresses. Although Amis does not term Welch a ridiculous phony, the inference is inescapable.

Central to the novel’s theme is Dixon’s secret life of protest. Although he hates the Welch family, for economic reasons he dares not rebel openly. Therefore, he resorts to a comic fantasy world to express rage or loathing toward certain imbecilities of the Welch set. His rude faces and clever pranks serve a therapeutic function—a means by which Dixon can safely release his exasperation. At other times, however, Dixon becomes more aggressive: He fantasizes stuffing Welch down the lavatory or beating him about the head and shoulders with a bottle until he reveals why he gave a French name to his son.

In Amis’s later novels, when the heroes’ moral problems become more intense, even life-threatening, such aggressive acts become more frequent and less controlled. In this early novel, however, what the reader remembers best are the comic moments. Dixon is less an angry young man than a funny, bumbling, confused individual for whom a joke makes life bearable. There are, of course, other ways in which one might react to an unjust world. One can flail at it, as does Jimmy Porter in John Osborne’s drama Look Back in Anger (pr. 1956). One can try to escape from it, as will Patrick Standish in Take a Girl Like You, or one can try to adapt to it. Like Charles Lumley’s rebellion against middle-class values in John Wain’s Hurry on Down (1953; also known as Born in Captivity), Dixon’s rebellion against the affectations of academia ends with an adjustment to the society and with a partial acceptance of its values. By remaining in the system, he can at least try to effect change.

Take a Girl Like You

Ostensibly another example of the familiar story of initiation, Amis’s fourth novel, Take a Girl Like You, contains subtleties and ironies that set it apart from Lucky Jim. The characterization, the balance between the comic and the serious, and the emphasis on sexual behavior and the pursuit of pleasure blend to make this novel a significant step forward in Amis’s development as a novelist.

The plot of this disturbing moral comedy is built around a variety of motifs: the travelogue and the innocent-abroad story, the theme of love in conflict with love, and the country-mouse story of an innocent girl visiting the big city for the first time. Jenny Bunn, from whose point of view more than half of the novel is narrated, is the conventional, innocent young woman who has not been touched by deep experience in worldly matters. Like Jim Dixon, she finds herself in an unfamiliar setting, confronting people who treat her as a stranger with strange ideas. Out of a simpleminded zeal for the virtues of love and marriage, she becomes the victim of a plausible, nasty man.

Jenny carries out several artistic functions in the story. She is chiefly prominent as the perceptive observer of events close to her. Again like Dixon, she is able to detect fraud and incongruities from a considerable distance. When Patrick Standish first appears, for example, she understands that his look at her means he is “getting ideas about her.” Amis draws a considerable fund of humor from Jenny’s assumed naïveté. His chief device is the old but appropriate one of naïve comment, innocently uttered but tipped with truth. Jenny, a young girl living in a restrictive environment and ostensibly deferential toward the attitudes and opinions of the adults who compose that environment, yet also guided by her own instinctive reactions, may be expected to misinterpret a great deal of what she observes and feels. The reader follows her as she is excited, puzzled, and disturbed by Patrick’s money-mad and pleasure-mad world—a world without fixed rules of conduct. Many of the “sex scenes” between them are built on verbal jokes, comic maneuvers, digressions, and irrelevancies, all of which give life to the conventional narrative with which Amis is working.

Patrick Standish is the antithesis of the good, moral, somewhat passive Jenny. Like the masterful, selfish Bertrand Welch, he is a womanizer and a conscious hypocrite who condemns himself with every word he utters. In spite of Patrick’s intolerable behavior and almost crippling faults, Amis maintains some degree of sympathy for him by granting him more than a surface treatment. In the earlier novels, the villains are seen from a distance through the heroes’ eyes. In Take a Girl Like You, however, an interior view of the villain’s thoughts, frustrations, and fears allows the reader some measure of understanding. Many scenes are rhetorically designed to emphasize Patrick’s isolation and helplessness. Fears of impotence, cancer, and death haunt him. He seeks escape from these fears by turning to sex, drink, and practical jokes, but this behavior leads only to further boredom, unsatisfied longing, and ill health.

Also contributing to the somber tone of the novel are secondary characters such as Dick Thompson, Seaman Jackson, and Graham MacClintoch. Jackson equates marriage with “legalised bloody prostitution.” MacClintoch complains that, for the unattractive, there is no charity in sex. Jenny’s ideals are further diminished when she attends a party with these men. The conversation anticipates the emotional barrenness of later novels, in which love is dead and in its place are found endless games. Characters speak of love, marriage, and virtue in the same tone as they would speak of a cricket game or a new set of teeth.

With Take a Girl Like You, Amis leaves behind the hilarity and high spirits on which his reputation was founded in order to give expression to the note of hostility and cruelty hinted at in Lucky Jim. Drifting steadily from bewilderment to disillusionment, Jenny and Patrick signal the beginning of a new phase in Amis’s moral vision. Life is more complex, more precarious, less jovial. The simple romantic fantasy solution at the end of Lucky Jim is not possible here.

The Anti-Death League

The Anti-Death League represents for Amis yet another extension in philosophy and technique. The conventions of the spy thriller provide the necessary framework for a story within which Amis presents, from multiple viewpoints, a worldview that is more pessimistic than that of any of his previous novels. A preoccupation with fear and evil, an explicit religious frame of reference, and a juxtaposition of pain and laughter, cruelty and tenderness all work to create a sense of imminent calamity reminiscent of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). No longer does Amis’s world allow carefree, uncomplicated figures of fun to move about, relying on good luck and practical jokes to see them through their difficulties. Life has become an absurd game, and the players are suffering, often lonely and tragic individuals, caught in hopeless situations with little chance for winning the good life, free from anxieties, guilt, and doubts.

As the controlling image, the threat of death is introduced early in the novel in the form of an airplane shadow covering the principal characters. Related to this scene is an elaborate metaphor drawn from the language of pathology, astronomy, botany, and thermonuclear war. Part 1 of the three-part structure is titled “The Edge of a Node”—referring to Operation Apollo, an elaborate project designed to destroy the Red Chinese with a horrible plague. As the narrative progresses, the characters are brought to the edge or dead center of the node.

Related to this preoccupation with death is the sexual unhappiness of the characters. Jim Dixon’s romps with Margaret are farcical and at times rather sad. Patrick Standish’s pursuit and conquest of Jenny Bunn are disgusting and somewhat tragic. In The Anti-Death League, the characters’ pursuit of love and sex leads only to unhappiness and even danger. Two disastrous marriages and several unhappy affairs have brought Catherine Casement to the brink of madness. An unfaithful husband and a possessive lover have caused Lady Hazell to avoid any emotional involvement whatsoever. A desire to get away from love impels Max Hunter, an alcoholic and gay, to join the army.

Along with the inversion of love, Amis dramatizes an inversion of religion. In place of a benevolent supreme being, Amis has substituted a malevolent God whose malicious jokes lead to death and tragic accidents. In protest, Will Ayscue, the army chaplain, declares war on Christianity as the embodiment of the most vicious lies ever told. Max Hunter writes a poem against God (“To a Baby Born Without Limbs”), organizes the Anti-Death League, and demolishes the local priory. James Churchill cites Hunter’s alcoholism, the death of a courier, and Catherine’s cancer as reasons for retreating from a world gone bad. Whereas in the preceding novels laughter helps the heroes cope with specific injustices, in The Anti-Death League, laughter only intensifies the horror, the pain. Sometimes Amis shifts abruptly from laughter to pain to intensify the pain. A lighthearted moment with Hunter in the hospital is followed by a depressing scene between Catherine and Dr. Best. News of Catherine’s cancer is juxtaposed with Dr. Best’s highly comic hide-and-seek game.

Hysteria, depression, boredom—these are some of the moods in the army camp, bespeaking a malaise and a loss of hope from which neither sex nor religion nor drink offers any escape. Although both condemning and laughing at the characters’ foibles, the reader feels a personal involvement with them because the suffering is seen through the sufferers’ eyes. Alone, trying to regain control of their lives, they act irresponsibly and immorally. Only Moti Naidu—like Gore-Urquhart in Lucky Jim, a moral voice in the novel—speaks truth in spite of the other characters’ tragic mistakes. His recommendations that they aspire to common sense, fidelity, prudence, and rationality, however, go unheeded.

The Green Man

Although The Green Man offers the same preoccupation with God, death, and evil as The Anti-Death League, the novel is different from its predecessor in both feeling and technique. The work is, to begin with, a mixture of social satire, moral fable, comic tale, and ghost story. Evil appears in the figure of Dr. Thomas Underhill—a seventeenth century “wizard” who has raped young girls, created obscene visions, and murdered his enemies and now invades the twentieth century in pursuit of the narrator’s thirteen-year-old daughter. God also enters in the person of “a young, well-dressed, sort of after-shave lotion kind of man,” neither omnipotent nor benevolent. For him, life is like a chess game, the rules of which he is tempted to break. A seduction, an orgy, an exorcism, and a monster are other features of this profoundly serious examination of dreaded death and all its meaningless horror.

The novel is narrated retrospectively from the point of view of Maurice Allington. Like Patrick Standish and James Churchill, he spends most of his time escaping, or trying to escape, from himself—and for good reason. Death for him is a fearful mystery. Questions of ultimate justice and human destiny have been jarred loose of any religious or philosophical certainties. He suffers from “jactitations” (twitching of the limbs) as well as unpleasant and lengthy “hypnagogic hallucinations.” What is more, problems with self extend to problems with his family and friends: He is unable to get along well with his wife or daughter, and his friends express doubts about his sanity. In fact, the only certainty Maurice has is that as he gets older, consciousness becomes more painful.

To dramatize Maurice’s troubled mind, Amis employs supernatural machinery as an integral part of the narrative. The windowpane through which Maurice sees Underhill becomes a metaphor for the great divide between the known, seen world of reality and the unknown, hence fearful, world of the supernatural. Dr. Underhill, a doppelgänger, reflects Maurice’s own true nature in his selfish, insensitive manipulation of women for sexual ends. Also, Underhill’s appearances provide Maurice with an opportunity to ennoble himself. In his pursuit and eventual destruction of both Underhill and the green monster, Maurice gains self-knowledge—something few of Amis’s characters ever experience. He realizes his own potential for wickedness, accepts the limitations of life, and comes to an appreciation of what death has to offer as an escape from earthbound existence. For the first time in his life, Maurice recognizes and responds to the loving competence of his daughter, who looks after him when his wife leaves.

On one level, this elaborately created story is a superbly entertaining, fantastic tale. On another level, it is a powerful and moving parable of the limitations and disappointments of the human condition. Unlike Lucky Jim and Take a Girl Like You, both of which are rooted in the real world and are guided by the laws of nature, The Green Man—and to some extent The Anti-Death League—employs fantastic and surreal elements. Ravens, specters, and vague midnight terrors, all associated with guilt and despair, provide fitting emblems for Maurice’s self-absorbed condition.

The Old Devils

The Old Devils is not an easy book to read, but it is an almost irresistibly easy book to reread. It is one of Amis’s densest novels, its many different characters and their stories diverging, interweaving, and dovetailing with a striking precision that requires the utmost concentration of the reader. The novel has no central hero-narrator; each of the major characters claims his or her own share of reader attention. Though the characters’ talks and thoughts wander from topic to topic casually, appearing aimless and undirected, actually the inner workings of the characters are carefully regulated, as are the descriptive comments by the omniscient narrator, to support, define, develop, and ultimately embody the novel’s themes.

In terms of narrative, the story itself is painted in muted tones. Alun Weaver has chosen to retire from his successful television career in London as a kind of “professional Welshman” and third-rate poet and return after thirty years with his beautiful wife, Rhiannon, to South Wales. The novel explores, over a span of a few months, the effect of this return on their circle of old friends from university days. The old devils—a group of Welsh married couples all in their sixties and seventies—include Malcolm Cellan-Davies, an unsung local writer, and his wife, Gwen; Peter Thomas, a chemical engineer, and his wife, Muriel; Charlie Norris, the proprietor of a restaurant, and his wife, Sophie; Percy and Dorothy Morgan; and Garth Pumphrey, a former veterinarian who with his wife, Angharad, now attends to business at a local pub. Of the five couples, the first three have never left their hometown or accomplished anything very remarkable; their lives have passed them by. They are old now, retired from their professions, and do little else but drink heavily, a device Amis often uses to lower his characters’ defenses and reveal their true emotional states. As Sophie says of her husband, “I never realised how much he drank till the night he came home sober. A revelation, it was.”

The physical ill health the cronies worry about extends to the spiritual health of their marriages. With the exception of Rhiannon, her daughter Rosemary, and a few minor characters, the women in this novel not only are plain, hard, sharp, critical, or cross but also lack any reasonable relationships with their husbands that would make significant communication possible. Only Alun and Rhiannon, married for thirty-four years, seem still to have an appetite for life and love as well as drink, and most of their misunderstandings lead only to teasing, not to disaster. Their arrival, however, arouses conflict among their old friends. “You know,” says Muriel early in the novel, “I don’t think that news about the Weavers is good news for anyone.” The conflict comes in part because their return revives memories of various youthful liaisons and indiscretions, and also because the egotistical Alun immediately sets out to woo again the three women with whom he had affairs in the old days.

The Old Devils is about more than an aging present, however; it is also very much about the past and its impingements on everyone. Many of the characters in The Old Devils are carrying scars from bitterness and regret because of things that happened in their lives long ago, things they hide carefully from the world but on which their conscious attention is fixed. Past choices weigh heavily on all of them. These memories, like the memories of the aging characters in earlier novels, touch various notes—some sweet, some sour, some true, and others a bit off pitch. Indeed, these old devils are bedeviled by worries and fears of all kinds that deepen their uncertainty about life and increase their preoccupation with the past. Amis points out that one of the reasons old people make so many journeys into the past is to satisfy themselves that it is still there. When that, too, is gone, what is left? In this novel, what remains is only the sense of lost happiness not to be regained, only the awareness of the failure of love, only the present and its temporary consolations of drink, companionship, music, and any other diversions they might create, only a blind groping toward some insubstantial future. Neither human nor spiritual comfort bolsters their sagging lives and flagging souls; Malcolm speaks for all the characters, and probably for Amis himself, when he responds to a question about believing in God: “It’s very hard to answer that. In a way I suppose I do. I certainly hate to see it all disappearing.”

As in earlier novels, Amis finds in the everyday concerns of his ordinary folk a larger symbolic meaning that carries beyond the characters to indict a whole country. By the end of the novel, one character after another has uncompromisingly attacked television, the media, abstract art, trendy pub decor, rude teenagers, children, shoppers, rock music, Arab ownership of shops and pubs, and anything that smacks of arty or folksy Welshness. The point, says Malcolm, sadly, is that Wales is following the trends from England and has found a way of destroying the country, “not by poverty but by prosperity.” The decline and the decay, he says, are not the real problem. “We’ve faced that before and we’ve always come through.” What he abominates is the specious affluence. “It’s not the rubble I deplore,” he says, “it’s the vile crop that has sprung from it.” Both extremes—decay and affluence—are suggested by the homes the characters occupy, and unhappiness characterizes either extreme. Amis’s awareness of rooms, of houses, and of what they reveal about their inhabitants is a critical commonplace. Here, in each instance, the description of a character’s personal environment is a means of rendering his or her appalled and irritated perception of the world.

Amis’s characterization in The Old Devils, however, goes beyond a study of that final form of human deterioration. Rather, the novel examines an often debilitating process of moral and spiritual decay, a lessening of these people as human beings as life goes on and their hopes have dimmed along with their physical and mental powers. Perhaps Rhiannon, the most well-rounded of Amis’s female characters in a novel, has kept her spiritual core more intact than any of the old devils. Without a doubt she holds a certain moral superiority over her husband in a way that is reminiscent of Jenny Bunn in Take a Girl Like You, and the differences in husband and wife are played against each other. Rhiannon emerges as the voice of common sense in the novel, serene and utterly down-to-earth; Alun is condemned, by his actions and words, as a shallow, worldly, selfish man. In the end, he meets death while Rhiannon survives and, in fact, looks ahead to future happiness. The two are unreconciled at Alun’s death; no mention is made of her mourning, no homage is paid to his memory, and at the end of the novel she turns to Peter, her lover of forty years before. She finally forgives him for his long-ago abandonment, and the two begin to look forward to spending their last years together.

That event is one of two at the end of the novel that vitiate its undertone of pain, despair, and anxiety. The other positive event is the wedding of Rosemary, the Weavers’ daughter, to William, the son of Peter and Muriel, suggesting the replacing of the older generation by the new, which in one sense is heralded by the author as a sign of progress and fulfillment. The reader feels that the young couple will go on to live somewhat happy, placid lives. Despite the overriding negativism in the novel, there is some possibility of redemption. In The Old Devils, Amis pictures two relatively attractive people who show promise of living and working together peacefully, using their energy to make a new world instead of destroying an existing one.

The Folks That Live on the Hill

The Folks That Live on the Hill appeared only four years after The Old Devils, and while the two share certain similarities—especially the deployment of a wide, even panoramic, cast of characters—the latter work exhibits a greater degree of acceptance of humankind’s foibles. This attitude is displayed in particular by the novel’sprotagonist, Harry Caldecote, a retired librarian who cannot help caring about—and caring for—other people. These include a widowed sister who keeps house for him in the London suburb of Shepherd’s Hill, a niece by marriage whose alcoholism is reaching catastrophic proportions, and a brother whose mediocre poetry Harry nevertheless shepherds toward publication. Providing a kind of running commentary on the novel’s hapless characters are two immigrant brothers, a pair of bemused outsiders who see the follies of the “folks” all too clearly. When offered an attractive job in the United States, Harry chooses to remain where he is, partly through inertia but largely because he knows he is needed where he is. Harry is recognizably an Amis character, however, and a distinctly male one at that. Twice married and twice divorced, he is largely intolerant of women, other classes, and their annoying patterns of speech.

The Russian Girl

The Russian Girl encapsulates many of Amis’s perennial motifs and patterns, yet the gentler note sounded in The Folks That Live on the Hill remains. The novel’s protagonist is Richard Vaisey, an opinionated professor of Russian literature and language who is fighting to maintain the integrity of his subject in the face of academic progress. (It seems that Richard’s considerable knowledge of his subject “dates” him.) Richard’s wife Cordelia is perhaps the most harpylike of all Amis’s female characters, a rich, sexually attractive but wholly villainous creation noted for her absurd but attention-getting accent. The “girl” of the title is Anna Danilova, a visiting Russian poet who becomes involved with Richard. Their affair propels Richard from his comfortable, sheltered existence into a life of possibility.

Saving the novel’s plot from a certain predictability is the fact that Anna, like Harry’s brother Freddie in The Folks That Live on the Hill, is not a good poet. (To drive the point home, Amis reproduces an embarrassingly poor poem Anna has written in loving tribute to Richard.) This is a situation that Richard understands yet ultimately chooses to accept. In turn, Anna senses Richard’s true opinion of her work and accepts it as well. Although not Amis’s final novel, The Russian Girl represents in many ways the culmination of the author’s career in fiction. More sharply focused than many of its predecessors, it forces its protagonist through very difficult moral and intellectual choices. Anna, too, achieves a kind of dignity because of, not despite, her very lack of talent and emerges as one of Amis’s most gratifyingly complex female characters.

In retrospect, it is clear that Kingsley Amis is a moralist as well as a humorist. The early novels exhibit a richly comic sense and a considerable penetration into character, particularly in its eccentric forms. With Take a Girl Like You, Amis begins to produce work of more serious design. He gives much deeper and more complex pictures of disturbing and distorted people, and a more sympathetic insight into the lot of his wasted or burnt-out characters. In all of his novels, he fulfills most effectively the novelist’s basic task of telling a good story. In his best novels—Lucky Jim, Take a Girl Like You, The Anti-Death League, The Green Man, The Old Devils, The Folks That Live on the Hill, and The Russian Girl—Amis tries to understand the truth about different kinds of human suffering, then passes it on to the reader without distortion, without sentimentality, without evasion, and without oversimplification. His work is based on a steadying common sense.

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