This is an astonishing novel to be written by someone in their early twenties---the more so when you realise it was first published in 1973, at the height of English hippie-dom's prog-rock flowering. For this is essentially a punk novel written ahead of its time. It tells the story of Charles Highway's run-up to his twentieth birthday, as he falls for, then plans the seduction of, then abandons, the lovely, eponymous, Rachel.
But the first-person description of CH himself is really the core of the novel. Every twisted, nasty thought that any teenager has ever had is there in Charles, while he masquarades to himself and us as a polite, bookish, intellectual. In fact we are quietly led to believe what Charles believes of himself: that he is a cut-above the rest of the world---nasty but moral, calculating yet capable of love. It is only at the end that Amis lets us see the truth: that Charles is really just an intellectual fraud with no redeeeming features at all. He abandons the possibly pregnant Rachel with a callousness that even his much-hated father would have been incapable of. By contrast, Rachel ends up a far more noble charachter than we had any reason to believe when seen through Charles' overly self-regarding eyes.
In a sense this should be regarded as an early feminist novel. The male characters are so odious that it is hard to say a good word for them. (Though why, one wonders, have no female novelists plunged this far into the dark side of women's psyches?) But the question that must really be at the top of everyone's mind when they read this novel is: to what extent is this a portrait of the teenage Amis himself? The answer that most readers will probably come away with is, surely quite a lot. But that makes this novel a colossally brave affair, not just the clever, excoriatingly funny satire, that it seems on first read. A terrific book.