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2.0 out of 5 stars Martin Declared This to Be His Father's Greatest Achievement, 8 Dec 2013
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.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 14 Feb 2014 20:07:39 GMT
Peter H says:
I respect your opinion, however you don't get out of it what others do. I think it is a work of genius, but it divides. It is not a plot driven novel, but a morality tale about disintegration and decay. A "what becomes of us." There isn't anything else like it. For me it is profound. For you it wasn't. It is simple as that.

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Feb 2014 16:33:49 GMT
Thank you for your so courteous and insightful comment. It is true, I didn't get much out of it; although I do realize its a "what becomes of us." Am at that age myself, or beyond. Who knows, perhaps it's just something I came to on the wrong day,
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