If the novel has a general thesis, however, it is that women are capable of a mode of infuriatingly irrational behavior which men are simply not allowed to exhibit. This thesis is highly provocative, and to make any impact at all it has to be shown working in practice, repeatedly and realistically. The novel stands or falls, accordingly, on a sequence of conversations in which Stanley’s good intentions are defeated and ridiculed by one woman or another. Are the conversations credible? Do they create a consistent sense of character? Do individualities stand out from a general evocation of “femaleness”?
The first of these questions, at least, can be answered positively. Amis is a close observer and a skillful reporter and, throughout the novel, succeeds admirably in creating scenes which look recognizable, have all the component parts of ordinary conversation, but nevertheless work out as cumulatively ominous. He turns ordinary bad manners into something more sinister. A simple example comes from the minor character of Susan’s sister Alethea. She has the very common habit of never letting anyone else finish a sentence, even when it is a reply to one of her questions. She asks Stanley how things are going in Fleet Street (which is polite enough) but immediately moderates this by asking him if he has had any “good scoops.” Since Stanley is an advertising manager, this is hardly his job, but he tries gamely to frame a polite reply; Alethea, however, has already started talking about her house. A few moments later, she again addresses a mildly contemptuous remark to Stanley about “rich socialists” (she thinks that he is one which is false. but once everyone has heard a conversation such as this one. Yet the reader, put on the alert by many similar events, can hardly fail to draw the conclusion that Alethea, like many others in reality, has no interest in other people. Her conversation is like her...
(The entire section is 786 words.)