I was looking forward to delving into this book, long time fan as I am of Amis's fiction, but aside from a few essays such as a magesterial, witty and humane portrait of Philip Larkin - a longime friend of Kingsley Amis, which perfectly captures the gallows humour of Larkin's life and lines: 'Give me your arm, old toad, Help me down Cemetery Road', I found this was a rather dated voice from the past.
Amis's prose style and voice is always highly ironic, archly intelligent. And though he tries to put on the swagger of the American hard-baller stylists he so admires, that annoying English middle classness keeps tripping him up (for example when he plays poker with David Mamet he admits to feeling intimidated, he is perturbed by the sight of topless sunbathing in Cannes) and his snooker sessions with fellow novelist Julian Barnes have more than the whiff of overgrown two little boys with two little toys about it as he describes their snooker cues, brought for them by their respective wives.
The problem with Amis's style is that the world has moved on since the 1980s, and Amis's voice has not proven timeless. I think it has something to do with the fact that then it was still just about possible to write about the baseness of many aspects of Western Culture with the ironists voice, knowing you were addressing a knowing and highly educated readership.
Now that luxury cannot be had by writers, and some contemporary journo/novelist combos such as Will Self have realised this (though many of them haven't). No longer can an accepted bed of cultural knowledge be assumed, nor can one assume that the individual conscience of the writer is particularly privileged (something to which Amis still holds fast, witness his recent collection of articles 'The Second Plane'). The way for this type of writer - the cultural commentator, rather than the diagnostician - to survive now, I reckon, is to make like Will Self and be a brisk hack like creature, with a clever knowing style that does not come across too manufactured with sillicone injected metaphors like Amis's style. The spoken word is vital too now, in order to rack up the book sales now, and even literary writers (especially literary writers?) have to busk their comedy to reach an audience, rather than painstakingly craft pieces of journalism which - like many in this collection -can easily end up beached when the tide goes out.