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Amis, Kingsley

novel oxford jake jim

(British, 1922–95)

Kingsley Amis is one of the very few novelists who can make you hoot out loud. Long before the phrase was invented, he was, and remained, politically incorrect; if there was a balloon of pomposity or pretentiousness around, Amis would puncture it to wicked, gleeful effect. Born in London and educated at Oxford, he spent several years as a lecturer in English literature at Swansea, which provided the backdrop for his hugely successful and hilarious first novel, Lucky Jim (1954). In Jim Dixon, Amis created the archetypal comic anti-hero who harbours a beady scepticism of the establishment, and the old farts who run it. The Old Devils (1986), which deservedly won the Booker Prize, about the return to Wales after many years of a poet-cum-television personality and the upset this causes, pulls off the difficult trick of being very funny and also a poignant account of lifelong friendships, loyalties, and betrayals. Jake Richardson in Jake's Thing (1978) is a lecherous, middle-aged Oxford don losing his libido, and here Amis seizes the chance to poke fun at newfangled sex therapies (and therapists) as well as the loonier fringes of female liberation. Stanley and the Women (1984) revisits a favourite Amis battleground: the war between the sexes. In addition to these satirical swipes at contemporary life, Amis published four volumes of poetry and tried his hand at other genres: spy fiction, supernatural, detective mystery, and a science fiction novel, The Alteration (1976), in which the Reformation never took place, and the Pope proposes a drastic solution to ensure boy soprano Hubert Anvil retains his purity of tone. Martin Amis is Kingsley Amis's son.

John Wain, Simon Raven, Joyce Cary  TH

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