In favor of reading cranky, reactionary drunks

Kingsley Amis was a bit of a bastard in his later years. His political views ossified into the type of militantly reactionary crap you might expect from someone who had decided to take a hard line against anything new or challenging.  Because he was a famous, and excellent  author he got to air those views on T.V. all the time. Most of his latter day insights would find their contemporary equivalent  in the “Kenyan Anti-Colonialist” perspective.

But Amis is still one of my favorite authors and The Old Devils, recently re-published by the New York Review of Books Classics, is the crowning achievement of the latter half of his career. Amis’ bitter misogyny spoiled, or at least seriously blighted, some of his latter novels from Jake’s Thing onward (written during, and soon after, the dissolution of his second marriage and the end of his pursuit of love). But The Old Devils is a different story:

But it isn’t the epic imbibing that makes The Old Devils memorable. (Or it isn’t merely that: Amis does drinking and its aftereffects better than any other writer I’ve encountered.) And while The Old Devils is funny, it doesn’t feature the simple, straightforward hilarity of Lucky Jim…

Instead, The Old Devils almost feels like a secular benediction, a finely crafted exit line for a novelist whose misanthropy, and particularly his misogyny, blighted and, in at least one case (1984’s Stanley and the Women, which basically writes off women as universally crazed), ruined many of his later novels. The Old Devils wasn’t Amis’s last novel (he wrote six more), but it’s the finest of his autumnal work, largely because it features some of his best female characters.

His grasp of women is aided by the novel’s clear-eyed depiction of male misconduct and self-obsession. The marauding, manipulative womanizer and the misty-eyed romantic (who imagines an idealized version of his love) both have little regard for the thoughts and opinions of the women in question.

Rhiannon is a woman who has put up with both, although her attempts to handle the latter are particularly memorable. “The idea was to show him that she was not the curious creature, something between Snow White and a wild animal, that he had seemed to take her for,” Amis explains, “but an actual friend of his, and by now quite an old one.”

The rest of my review is here.

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