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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read!
Funny, urbane and highly enjoyable!
I read this on holiday this summer (I know..) and it was a real treat.
Many had said that this was Kingsley Amis' hidden gem, and that it didn't get the attention it deserves - I agree.

Its sardonic send-up of liberal London is as relevant now as it was then. This is neatly woven in with a tight plot that is easy to...
Published on 13 Sep 2011 by E. Henry

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars What on Earth was this novel even suppose to be?
I believe that the best novels are often the one's not easily sorted into a specific genre. Yet Amis clearly was at a loss of what his tale is actually about.

Amis clearly intended this to be some sort of satire, and perhaps it's merely because this novel is far to dated to appreciate it's brutal mocking of its characters, because I can't remember a single...
Published 4 months ago by Keepin' the Wolf From the Door


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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars To Stretch the Folly of Our Youth to Be the Shame of Age, 23 Nov 2012
By 
J C E Hitchcock (Tunbridge Wells, Kent, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Girl, 20 (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
Like many of Kingsley Amis's novels, "Girl, 20" is a work of political and social satire. At its centre is Sir Roy Vandervane, a distinguished Classical musician and conductor, a man who combines self-proclaimed "progressive" left-wing views with an unquenchable appetite for seducing women. The precise significance of the title "Girl, 20" is too complex to set out here, although in general terms it relates to Roy's preference for woman much younger than himself; his current mistress, Sylvia Meers, is not even 20, but only 17, less than a third of his age.

Although Sir Roy is the novel's main character, however, he is not its narrator; the story is told, in the first person, from the viewpoint of his friend, the journalist and music critic Douglas Yandell. Most of the story is taken up with Douglas's attempts to perform various "favours" for members of the Vandervane family, including Sir Roy, his long-suffering wife Kitty, and Penny, Roy's daughter by an earlier marriage. These "favours" are all connected to Roy's complicated love-life, although Douglas's own love-life is not exactly simple; he is currently sharing his girlfriend, Vivienne, with another man, who never appears in the story.

Douglas is considerably younger than Roy (33 as opposed to 54), but is much more conservative in his political, social and cultural opinions. To some extent, at least, Amis seems to be using him to reflect his own views; he shares his creator's distaste for modernist atonal music, for pop music and for seventies youth culture in general. Some of those views might seem odd from a twenty-first century viewpoint, such as Douglas's dismissal of Haydn's music as "perfunctory periwiggery" and of Mahler as "enormously talentless", but such opinions, especially as regards Mahler, were probably more widely held in the seventies than today. (It is interesting to speculate which composers, scorned or neglected today, will be regarded as cultural giants by the year 2050). In other respects, however, Douglas's prejudices reflect our own much more exactly, especially as regards the tastelessness of fashion during the "decade that taste forgot". (Amis had a keen eye for the shapeless clothes and ludicrous colour combinations which prevailed at the time).

According to one reviewer, Christopher Hitchens felt that this book inflicted a satirical wound on the intellectual left. I am not sure that I would agree with Hitchens on that, if only because both left-wingers and right-wingers tend to be so entrenched in their views that they are unlikely to find their opinions shaken, or to feel that their credibility has been damaged, by a single work of fiction. In any case, although by 1971 Amis had moved a long way from the left-wing position of early novels like "Lucky Jim", in "Girl, 20" also satirises the right, represented by Harold Meers, Sylvia's father and Douglas's editor, who cannot bear any Communist countries even to be mentioned in his newspaper, and by Vivienne's comically reactionary old father. Amis reminds us that in the seventies the right could be just as unpleasant as the left; for every leftist proclaiming Brezhnev's Russia or Mao's China as a workers' paradise there was a rightist ready to defend Franco, apartheid or the Greek military junta.

Amis's satire in "Girl, 20" seems to me to be directed less against socialism per se, or for that matter against conservatism per se, than against two tendencies, both personified by Vandervane, which he saw as prevalent intellectual currents during the late sixties and early seventies. He criticises Vandervane not so much because he is a socialist but because he is a pseud and hypocrite, the sort of wealthy champagne socialist who employs servants and who lives in a big country house in Hertfordshire, but who, if a genuinely socialist revolution were to break out, would doubtless flee the country in terror, and who salves his social conscience by making futile political gestures like refusing to perform Berlioz's "Harold in Italy". (His convoluted logic is that Berlioz was inspired by a poem by Byron, who is a national hero in Greece, which in the early seventies was a right-wing dictatorship).

Amis's other criticism of Vandervane is that he is a man who, to adapt Chesterton's words, has "stretched the folly of his youth to be the shame of age". He represents every would-be trendy middle-aged man who still thinks that he is a teenager, who idolises the young and who embraces the shallowest aspects of youth culture with a quite embarrassing enthusiasm. His penchant for girls young enough to be his granddaughter is due as much to his membership of this Cult of Youth as it is to simple lust. Sylvia- physically unattractive, foul-mouthed, bad-tempered and incapable of coherent thought- is a singularly unappealing young woman, but Sir Roy desires her less for what she is in herself than for what she represents, Youth with a capital "Y". Even his political positions are dictated as much by the desire to be fashionable and trendy as by the desire to be morally right.

I have admired Amis's writings ever since coming across "Lucky Jim" many years ago, but had not read "Girl, 20" until recently. More than four decades have passed since it was written, the Girl, 20 of 1971 is now Girl, 61, and it is doubtless true that satire, when directed against the transient fashions and trends of a particular era, loses some of its bite with the passage of time. I would not rate this book quite as highly as "Lucky Jim", largely because it contains no character like Jim Dixon himself who is both a figure of his own time and a timeless Everyman. Nevertheless, there is much in this novel which is worth reading. Amis at his best had an acid wit, and some of the set pieces are brilliantly funny, such as the accounts of the rock concert and of the performance of Sir Roy's latest composition, "Elevations 9", a chamber concerto for violin, sitar, bass guitar and bongos. (That particular line-up says a lot in itself about the state of culture in the seventies). The book certainly reminded me of why, during my own teenage years in the late seventies, I and a group of like-minded school-friends consciously embraced the values of Classical music and "high culture" in general, partly motivated by a protest against what we saw as the inanity and shallowness of contemporary Youth Culture.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read!, 13 Sep 2011
By 
E. Henry (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Girl, 20 (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
Funny, urbane and highly enjoyable!
I read this on holiday this summer (I know..) and it was a real treat.
Many had said that this was Kingsley Amis' hidden gem, and that it didn't get the attention it deserves - I agree.

Its sardonic send-up of liberal London is as relevant now as it was then. This is neatly woven in with a tight plot that is easy to miss amongst the hilarity and lust. Intricate detail and nuance are seamlessly communicated to the reader, and afterwards I was taken aback by how skilful the writing was.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An witty and erudite dissection of the war between age/youth., 20 July 2009
By 
Mr Mark Hadley (Birmingham, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Girl, 20 (Hardcover)
It's a pity that this novel isn't more widely available, especially given the notoriety of its author. It is a well paced and engaging tale of how an aging conductor's decision to pursue a relationship with a girl old enough to be his daughter alters the lives of those around him. Told in the first person in a very witty and irreverent style by the conductor's friend, we see the clash between the differing values of youth and age (pop vs. classic music, gentleman's clubs vs. discotheques, politics vs. apathy) and the sometimes disastrous effects of them mixing.

The narrator is pleasingly irreverent and, despite the sometimes overly wordy descriptive passages, comes across as amiable, if a little dubious of character. Indeed, there are no characters in this novel that are above reproach, everybody is dragged down and at times are forced to make decisions that are questionable. Herein lies the novel's charm and the author's skill. Most of the characters are obviously type-cast but everybody is given a complexity and ambiguity that greatly enhances the reading pleasure.

This book comes recommended.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Neglected Masterpiece, 15 May 2013
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This review is from: Girl, 20 (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
In the Amis canon, it's generally agreed that Lucky Jim and the Old Devils are the twin peaks; but I think that Girl, 20 is his neglected masterpiece.

The plot shadows the disgraceful private life of composer Sir Roy Vandervane through the eyes of a journalist friend of his. Amis's eye for detail and innate understanding of the power of embarrassment make for great satire: Vandervane is repulsive, funny, hypocritical and a joy to watch crash and burn, and, as Jacobson says in his introduction, the final chapter's title, All Free Now, has never made freedom sound so deplorable. A serious gem, and one that should be read not just by Amis fans but by anyone who appreciates wit, honesty, highly-pitched scorn and resonance in prose.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars What on Earth was this novel even suppose to be?, 18 Mar 2014
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This review is from: Girl, 20 (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
I believe that the best novels are often the one's not easily sorted into a specific genre. Yet Amis clearly was at a loss of what his tale is actually about.

Amis clearly intended this to be some sort of satire, and perhaps it's merely because this novel is far to dated to appreciate it's brutal mocking of its characters, because I can't remember a single memory of really noticing any humour in it.

At times, it tries to be provocative. There are scenes where Amis clearly feels like he's opening the door to a bleaker, dirtier side of relationships and sex. I'm not entirely sure why though, because the cover of the Penguin Edition itself is far more provocative than anything behind it.

So then where are we suppose to draw pleasure from the tale? Its characters? There's not a single character who will stay in your mind after you've closed the book, I'm afraid? His self-indulgent lecturing on the world of classical music Amis clearly felt himself apart of? It's as engrossing as it sounds.

Not to say that Amis is an untalented writer. Having only read his "Girl, 20" (and despite my bleak opinion of it), I suspect strongly that is not the case. But "Girl, 20" is such a incoherent mess that I find it hard to believe many people will take pleasure in devoting themselves to reading it.
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6 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Say Not The Struggle Naught Availeth, 29 Mar 2011
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This review is from: Girl, 20 (Hardcover)
In Zachary Leader's biography of Amis, he quotes Christopher Hitchens as saying that, in `Girl, 20', Amis had `inflicted a satirical wound' on the `intellectual left'. He feels that this book, published in 1971, actually damaged the credibility of the left.

Kingsley Amis was an exceptionally perceptive writer, but he falls into the same trap that so many writers writing about the `swinging sixties' fall into, of conflating the radical left and hippy movements and assuming that all members of both were idiots, or at least failures. In fact the people who were idiots were the weekend hippies and armchair radicals who never took a risk in their lives and wore kipper ties and fantasized about being on television (or actually managed it).

Robert H Bell, a critic, in an accessible webpage about Amis's novels, feels this is a brilliant novel about people who lead `desparate, bleak and terrible lives'.

Personally I found all but one of the characters highly unattractive. We have a total wimp of a narrator, who takes everybody's side and never says no to anyone, a famous conductor with an IQ of 70, the narrator's girlfriend who competes with her partner in acquiescence, a nasty newspaper editor and a high-class 17 year old harridan, not to mention an odious small boy and his pathetic mother.

Excuse me while I collect myself.

The only attractive character is Vandervane's (ie the conductor's) daughter who has spirit and intelligence, and doesn't constantly assume centre stage pontificating like everyone else.

Because Amis is an excellent writer his surface cynicism is always layered over a certain `we're all in it together' empathy, which this girl somehow embodies.

Amis apparently once said, it wasn't that he didn't believe in God, it was just that he didn't like him very much. In his previous book, `The Green Man', the main character expands on this in a conversation with the Almighty that says a lot, perhaps, about the writer's feelings. It's almost as if Amis can admire the craftsmanship but can't figure out the plot.

As Martin Amis says, it is a sad book, but in my opinion it is the daughter and even in a way the preposterous conductor who show the way. If Hitchens thought the left were found out by this it only shows what a poverty of imagination he ultimately has.

I think he's right, however, in saying this is one of Amis's best books.
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2 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Amis amiss again, 17 Aug 2012
This review is from: Girl, 20 (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
I'm all for freedom of speech and I'm happy other reviewers here derived pleasure from this alleged "novel". Perhaps it's just me but a witless and disjointed farrago of Benny Hill-style chasing around London locations (with a few Herts country house scenes for spice) does not add up to anything substantial. It certainly doesn't help that KA couldn't do plot, produce narrative tension, evoke a scene or create vivid characters (one in particular is utterly unconvincing because of the author's narrow social experience). The "climax" is lazy and the main man (the composer Sir Roy Vandervane) just disappears without a whimper. As for "wounding the left", that is an unfeasibly far-fetched claim. If you want political fiction go to George Orwell or Albert Camus, not this untalented snob and pseud. Even Howard Jacobson, in his sheepish and vaguely shame-faced introduction to this edition, can't find anything to illuminate and that is because there isn't anything to illuminate other than pointless rambling to make up a publisher's word count.
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Girl, 20 (Penguin Modern Classics)
Girl, 20 (Penguin Modern Classics) by Kingsley Amis (Paperback - 2 Jun 2011)
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