Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Kingsley Amis

You can walk into practically any branch of Oxfam or almost any other charity shop in Britain and buy a copy of Kingsley Amis's 'The Old Devils'. And indeed also 'Lucky Jim', 'Stanley and the Women' or 'Russian Hide and Seek'. Indeed, with the exception of 'Stanley...', you should probably do so. But Kingsley Amis wrote over twenty novels and the vast majority of them have been out of print for many years. The TV adaptation of 'A Girl Like You' introduced one more book to the general public a year or two ago, but if you want anything more than that or 'Lucky Jim' you'll have to go second hand. And even then large amounts of his back catalogue are very hard to find.

Unfairly stereotyped as either an 'angry young man' or a sexist old pig, Amis is rightly lauded for being the funniest British writer since Wodehouse. But he was also a magnificent writer with an ear for language (and sound) to die for and a wonderful imagination, and a fine poet to boot. Happily, I ducked into Waterstones on my lunch break (best air conditioning in Chichester; it's sweltering here) and discovered, first, that 'Jake's Thing' has been republished in a rather racy looking 'Vintage Blue' series (along with 'The Rachel Papers', 'Portnoy's Complaint', 'The Cement Garden' etc).

Better still, a glance at the shelves reveals that Vintage have gone further, and are finally reissuing his back catalogue. But if the packaging of 'Jake's Thing' suggests that nothing has changed in the public perception of Amis senior, the reissue programme tells a different story.

Beautifully packaged and tellingly branded on the spine not as 'Kingsley Amis' but 'AMIS', the designs seem to reinforce and encourage the notion that we should be re-thinking Amis's contribution to post-war fiction. One can almost imagine saying "Oh, you thought I meant Martin Amis? No. I meant Amis". Of the newly published books, I can say little; I've found it as hard to track them down as the above indicates. Should have no such problems now, though. Thank you, Vintage.

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