Kingsley Amis is a satirist and as such is interested in using characters to make points about aberrant behavior (generally social, but not always so), most immediately exemplified by “types” rather than individuals. His characters have an obviously caricatured quality and are rarely, in this novel, seen as other than surface representations of certain exaggerated points of view.
Garnet Bowen is used as the commentator for this consideration of human and social foibles. By profession a writer, by personal inclination skeptical and wary, he is appropriately skilled in commenting upon everything (and usually does) with some aptly scarifying wittiness. This kind of character is the common focus of Amis’ novels. Bowen is educated, intelligent, thin-skinned, and quick to respond to any pomposity or stupidity. He is, however, not lacking in eccentricity himself, and Amis uses Bowen’s prejudices to mock that peculiar British disease, the disdain for foreigners over the water, a hangover attitude from the days of the old Empire. Bowen is a bundle of nerves, responding to the constant bombardments of normal social irritants with constant, witty verbal counter-punching which makes for much of the pleasure of the novel and which ranges from offhand swipes at popular singers (Frank Sinatra), architecture, red tape, and the beastliness of travel, to quirky in-jokes upon the state of modern literature. He is never without an opinion; indeed, it might be said...
(The entire section is 427 words.)