Monday 22 July 2019

The Old Devils - Kingsley Amis (1986)

Rating: Excellent

The Old Devils is one of those rare novels that is quite brilliant and has also won the Booker Prize. That is a bit harsh, as there have been quite a few winners that have been exceptional, but also some that are very disappointing indeed. The novel is erudite, stylishly written and also is very very funny; full of wit, satire and outright laughs. This is also a rare feat, as I've found that humorous literary fiction is hard to find and therefore I conclude that it is difficult to write. I only have to think of that notoriously reprehensible Man Booker Prize winner The Finkler Question (2010) and its risible attempts at humour to confirm that suspicion. There is, of course, another rarity at play in that the son (Martin Amis) is just as good as the father and I can't think of another quality father son combination in literature.

The Old Devils follows a coterie of elderly Welsh couples whose chief shared interest is drinking and attempting to deal with their various ailments and life disappointments. Back into their lives after decades in London comes Welsh poet Alun Weaver and his wife Rhiannon, a great beauty who left a number of the old devils heartbroken in her wake. Alun is one of those larger than life characters whose charisma and outrageously bad behavior as both a malcontent and philanderer almost steals the novel (and I suspect gave Amis an opportunity to satirize himself as an added bonus...). However Amis created a host of well fleshed out characters both male and female that elicit both insight and poignancy. The novel does perhaps go on a bit and has a few flat spots, however the emotional and satisfying ending makes up for any minor shortcomings. The Old Devils is an extremely satisfying novel and I'm going to start collecting Amis' books whenever I see them and also try and rectify the fact that I haven't read his infamous debt novel Lucky Jim (1954).

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