The Old Devils by Kingsley Amis

I wanted to read a novel by Kingsley Amis as he remains a very well-regarded stylist, at least in the UK. And someone said this was funny.

I found it quite hard going, to be honest. It is about a group of people – I hesitate to call them ‘friends’, not least because the humour of the book derives entirely from their cynical, selfish attitudes and fundamentally negative views about life and its meaning – who gather after many years in Wales, where they grew up.

Some of it is about getting old; references, made funny be being matter-of-fact and deadpan, to physical changes that come with age. Much of it is about drinking; it is one of the few books I have read that takes a realistic view of what serious drinking (as opposed to alcoholism) amounts to.

The characters are two dimensional, in keeping with the cynical detachment of the narration. There are some mildly amusing moments but it is not a laugh out loud book.

And the style can be difficult to follow. It should rattle along but some sentences have to be reread several times to get the meaing, such as:

“Muriel lit a cigarette in one continuous operation rather than as when addressing Dorothy – piecemeal, like somebody driving a car at the same time.”

You get the meaning but the language is imprecise and a bit loose. I put it down to laziness on the part of the author, I think.

Anyway, not a great book, but sufficiently diverting to be worth finishing.


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