Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

There is a long tradition in English letters which can be traced back to Henry Fielding (whom, significantly, Bowen admires) which has produced some of the best satiric-comic work in the novel. The early twentieth century master was Evelyn Waugh; Amis is his successor and has been so since Lucky Jim was published in 1954. In 1986, his sixteenth novel, The Old Devils, won England’s most prestigious literary award, the Booker Prize.

I Like It Here, Amis’ third novel, is in several ways one of his slighter, least ambitious works in the genre. Based in part on his own visit to Portugal (part of an award for winning the Somerset Maugham Prize with Lucky Jim), it is a bit of a loose notebook of impressionistic experiences, clearly less structured than is usual. The intrusion of Salazar and Gomes with their contrasting comments upon the dictatorship of Salazar seems to be forced into the narrative, as if Amis felt something had to be said but was unsure of how to do it. Bowen may be a bit too normal, in fact, to do the kind of dirty work that other Amis protagonists might do on someone such as Salazar. Bowen has his moments of mild lunacy (the amusing set piece of mutual misunderstanding over Grim-Grin is one of these) and his “bum-bum” dislike of doing anything different reminds one, but only faintly, of the manic excesses of the wilder heroes in other books. This is one of Amis’ calmer, nicer books, but the really frenetic energy is sadly missing. Bowen is simply too pleasant to beat up on the natives. The novel does, however, clearly show that Amis, for all his satiric instincts, expects his main characters to act decently in the long run.