9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heavy-proof coctail of profound, sad and hilarious
Ageing "professional Welshman" Alun (nee Alan) Weaver decides to up-sticks from his fashionable North London home and go back to his roots. Taking with him his ex-hottie wife (Rhiannon) and many half-completed written projects and other half-formed ideas.
Despite the passing of time (in which he has gained a CBE and a minor talking-heads TV career - seemingly...
Published on 6 May 2011 by Peter H
2.0 out of 5 stars Martin Declared This to Be His Father's Greatest Achievement
Kingsley Amis's THE OLD DEVILS, in company with the author's Lucky Jim , has recently been reissued, rescued from out of print oblivion in America, by New York Review Books Classics. THE OLD DEVILS had been, at long last, a winner of Great Britain's prestigious Booker Prize for its author, the then almost-universally popular twentieth century British humorist. Why the...
Published 1 day ago by Stephanie DePue
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heavy-proof coctail of profound, sad and hilarious,
This review is from: The Old Devils (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)Ageing "professional Welshman" Alun (nee Alan) Weaver decides to up-sticks from his fashionable North London home and go back to his roots. Taking with him his ex-hottie wife (Rhiannon) and many half-completed written projects and other half-formed ideas.
Despite the passing of time (in which he has gained a CBE and a minor talking-heads TV career - seemingly based on knowing a, here renamed, Dylan Thomas) he is soon back as leader-of-the-gang: The "Old Devils" (Malcolm, Charlie and Peter) who pub-crawl and party to their, undoubted, premature graves.
Starting by reviewing the reviewers (rather than the book) I am tempted to say (snobbishly?) is that you either get this or you don't. Like reading War and Peace not knowing it is going to be very long, heavy and set in Russia, or Robinson Crusoe not knowing it is about solitude, you might easily get off on the wrong foot. If not be thrown entirely.
However, please, don't be put off by bare headlines, topic or even the (much noted) loose meandering plot. Indeed marvel at its Houdini-like ability to break free of its, apparent, chains, handcuffs and heavy padlocks and come to the surface as a winner.
(Here we are in the land of aching limbs, borderline alcoholism, difficult bowl movements, false teeth and how difficult toes are to clip when clinically obese. And, I say with a chuckle, much, much, more and worse!)
If I was to give one negative, it does little for women. Maybe men get the wives they deserve and maybe women do bitch behind each others back in real life, but they come across as an extra jaded lot.
However it doesn't follow the comedy rule of women being the stay-at-homes armed with curlers, a hairnet and a rolling pin. Far from it, they have an eye for a party as much as the men. Even, as you would find by reading it, have very different agendas and priorities to the men folk.
Equally the massive lead character of Weaver does diminish and overshadow the others who, at least, don't like causing trouble for its own sake and are less inclined to be let their mouths run away with them.
One of these books that if you manage to read it once you will end up reading it twice...
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Triple Whisky Please,
This review is from: The Old Devils (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)I first read this book when it came out and I didn't like it all that much. I liked his brighter kind of shinier books like 'Lucky Jim' and 'Stanley and the Women' better. However nearing the age of Amis's characters in this book I am having a right Amis binge (I am talking senior) now and I found this much more compelling.
As usual with Amis the male characters are really what the book is about, the women are a bit thin. These men are mostly fat, colossally unfit drunkards with heroic endurability and considerable tolerance for their lives, and a willingness to stick together. They are also at times very intelligent and funny. They shoulder life's difficulties with massive doses of super-bitchy humour.
The Welsh thing is interesting. Amis is of all men the most English, of all writers I should say. He has even written novels about how much he hates abroad. Wales is very definitely not England, but it is not abroad either. But in England you have to have a ticket to do Wales.
Amis seems to me to have put more into this than most of his books and the humour is as distilled as the whisky all the men seem to take their morning bath in. I would say it does for old age what 'Take a Girl Like You' does for courting. Now there's an old word for you.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wickedness in Wales,
This review is from: The Old Devils (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)One of his best. A Professional Welshman returns, with his beautiful wife, to the Welsh town of his youth, and together and separately the couple meet up with all their old friends. The "hero" is happy to get off with all his friends' wives and drag his old mates on a weeklong pub crawl. A lot of alcohol is absorbed as the old friends are revealed as living lives of quiet desperation, leavened by 30s jazz. The BBC dramatised this back in the 80s - the brilliant series has never been repeated, and it's not on DVD. Why, oh, why?
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The balance of action is wrong,
This review is from: The Old Devils (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)I was attracted to this novel by the name of the author and the mention on the front cover of the Booker Prize.
However, it took an effort of will to stay with the novel all the way through to the end. This was because the balance of action seems wrong, with 80 percent of the book building up to the critical event that speeds along the rest of the novel. I would have preferred to see the critical event arrive after about 60 percent of the novel. As it is, it demands a lot of patience to wait for the "other shoe to drop." After finishing the book, I had to re-read the first chapter in order to track down the small clues that explain much of the action in the closing part of the novel which ends with a predictable denouement.
On the positive side, I liked the very under-stated irony of Welsh / British humor that is unique and sorely missed by expatriates. The many aspersions cast on the Welsh character are very funny. These were new to me as an English person with no prior knowledge of Wales beyond a one-day visit to Anglesey!
I also was moved by the quiet desperation of older people who have retired, lost their purpose in life, and grown weary of marital routine and fragile friendships. After finishing the novel, I was struck by the misery that underlies so much of middle-class life.... Probably it is this searing look into old age and its loneliness that won Amis the Prize. Certainly I can't bring to mind any other work that deals with these topics and this type of older population.
2.0 out of 5 stars Martin Declared This to Be His Father's Greatest Achievement,
This review is from: The Old Devils (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)Kingsley Amis's THE OLD DEVILS, in company with the author's Lucky Jim , has recently been reissued, rescued from out of print oblivion in America, by New York Review Books Classics. THE OLD DEVILS had been, at long last, a winner of Great Britain's prestigious Booker Prize for its author, the then almost-universally popular twentieth century British humorist. Why the author's work had fallen from such favor to such a low point is rather a publishing mystery, though some critics suggest it may have something to do with the rise of Kingsley's son Martin to literary acclaim.
THE OLD DEVILS is set in Wales, where Amis gazes at a group of elderly Welsh married couples who have been spending their golden years learning to live in a world where evenings have a tendency to start after breakfast. They are doing a lot of drinking, also, a bit of gossiping, complaining, reminiscing. However, their more or less orderly social world is upended when two old members of their circle unexpectedly return from England: Alun Weaver, who has made himself a celebrated man of Welsh letters, and his entrancing wife, Rhiannon. Long-dormant rivalries and romances are rudely awakened; social life at the Bible and Crown, the local pub, is smashed. Martin Amis considered this book to be his father's greatest achievement, and one of the half-dozen best of the twentieth century, as it confronts the problems of aging, which, by then Kingsley knew well, with candor and sympathy. It is certainly, as they say, a warts and all portrait of aging. And the Booker jurors evidently liked it too.
I know very little about Wales and the Welsh, just, perhaps, that they are supposed to have great musical abilities, and many citizens surnamed Jones. The book does give us a good look at the region and its people. It also gives us a glimpse at a world long gone, where a group of men, or of women, could create a smoke-filled room in no time while drinking to excess. You might wish to revisit such a place: I didn't. There are also a great many characters here, and I could hardly be bothered to sort them out. Because I found this book wordy to the extreme. I've recently re-read, and reviewed in these pages, the author's LUCKY JIM and The Green Man, and found them wordy, though not so as to compare with this. Also, virtually nothing happens here. Some drunken couplings and outbursts. A death and a marriage. Hardly anything happens until the last few pages of this 300-page book, and, by then, it was too little too late for me, though, in perhaps the book's last twenty pages the writer does achieve some power.
Upon its 1954 publication, Sir Kingsley Amis's LUCKY JIM jumpstarted his career with a bang, won a lot of awards, was eventually translated into more than 20 languages, and has probably sold more than two million copies worldwide since. Amis was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize three times until he eventually won it for THE OLD DEVILS.
Back when I was an intrepid girl journalist, quite a while before publication of this book, I interviewed Kingsley Amis in his comfortable North London home. He fed me lunch in the kitchen, including preserves made by his wife at the time, British novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard, and a nice white wine, and entertained me with a series of witticisms. His son Martin, then a lanky teenager, came in and drank some milk out of the carton. As an American might.
Sorry to say I just can't recommend this book to the general reader.
2.0 out of 5 stars Not a deserving award winner,
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This review is from: The Old Devils (Vintage Classics) (Kindle Edition)Perhaps I should have known better than buying an award winner. They mostly disappoint and this was no exception. I'm not sure if it helps or hinders being Welsh when reading this. Hinders I suppose; it's characters are rather stereotyped and introverted. Goes into the general category of award winners where I'm convinced the judges are simply too pretentious to call the writer's bluff and declare it mediocre.
1.0 out of 5 stars Very boring,
This review is from: The Old Devils (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)Of the 1001 books I must read before I die, this was the first I gave up on after getting through over half of it. Life is too short to waste time on this book. It was like listening to a bunch of old blokes talking rubbish with no plot or story. Visit any old peoples home, transcribe a load of nonsense spouted by a few old blokes, especially if they've had a few pints, and that's the book. Money for old rope is an expression that comes to mind. A classic? I think not.
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Stuff,
This review is from: The Old Devils (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)Re-read 20 years later this is still great reading. Not for those with a tendency towards depression as Amis's knife lances deeply into the boil of everyday life for older couples. The theme is fatalistic and loaded with equal measures of sarcasm and irony. The setting is a dull and conservative suburban corner of South Wales where "Welshness" is a topic for endless discussion. An intelligent and well educated gang of old Welsh boozers have their everyday life disrupted by the return of a minor literary celebrity and "would-be" Don Juan. The intrigues and old wounds that have been just below the surface for years are suddenly forked to the surface. While some have taken this book as a litany of misogyny it is not that at all. While the women may not be as loyal or supportive to their husbands as might be hoped, it is the lack of will and energy of their husbands which provokes this. When the would-be hero arrives, he shows up the other men's lack of drive by his "up and at 'em" approach. Can be read in many ways, none of them terribly optimistic although there is a hidden romantic theme if you look deep enough.
5.0 out of 5 stars Full of gentle humour and wry observation,
This review is from: The Old Devils (Vintage Classics) (Kindle Edition)Reread, for the first time in years in Jan 2013. Wonderful writing, full of gentle humour and wry observation. He always seems to find the right word and perfect phrase. I think that this was one of his very best, possibly even as memorable as Lucky Jim. There is a lot of the latter day Kingsley in here - spookily prescient too, as it's not that far from how things turned out. Poor old Kingsley. It feels like we have lost a really fun-to-be-with friend.
5.0 out of 5 stars Over The Moon,
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This review is from: The Old Devils (Hardcover)the rating on this book was excellent also it is in very good condition,if you are a Kingsley Amis fan worth reading
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The Old Devils (Vintage Classics) by Kingsley Amis (Paperback - 5 Feb 2004)