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Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Old Devils (1986) by Kingsley Amis

Book Review
Old Devils (1986)
 by Kingsley Amis

  Old Devils was the Booker Prize Winning book that Kingsley Amis deserved for  a career that began with him as a fringe member of the "angry young men" of post-War English fiction, and ended with laureates, accolades, and a son who was arguably even more successful at being a novelist than his dad.

  I love this two sentence summation of the plot from Wikipedia:

       Alun Weaver, a writer of modest celebrity, returns to his native Wales with his wife, Rhiannon, sometime girlfriend of Weaver's old acquaintance Peter Thomas. Alun begins associating with a group of former friends, including Peter, all of whom have continued to live locally while he was away. While drinking in the house of another acquaintance, Alun drops dead, leaving the rest of the group to pick up the pieces of their brief reunion

   There you have it, people, Old Devils in a paragraph.  Old Devils is also very...Welsh, in the sense that it takes place in Wales, outside of Swansea, I believe, and Alun Weaver is a "writer of modest celebrity" in that he is the pet Welsh poet/public intellectual for the BBC.  He is also a compulsive philanderer, in his very British way.   Like his other 1001 Books qualifier, The Green Man, Old Devils concerns itself with a group of men who, one imagines, were known directly to Amis.  It doesn't seem like any of the characters are meant to be Amis himself.

  It's not hard to call Amis pere a dinosaur.  His characters are bloated, white, privileged, alcoholics and philanders.  Not the landed aristocracy of the 19th century novel, but the the class of 20th century professional intellectuals, some successful, some not so much.   He couldn't be further away from the hot trends in 1980's literature- no diversity, racial or economic, no post-modern pyrotechnics, no infusion of magical realism.  Just unhappy British people.  But it's so, so well done.  Amis manages to draw some universal truths out of a creative milieu that had been left for dead by a half century of literary progress.  And he won a Booker Prize, an award that did not exist when he started writing.

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