KINGSLEY AMIS by Eric Jacobs


A Biography
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A lucid, unvarnished biography of novelist Kingsley Amis (who died in 1995), father of Martin and one of Britain’s famously outsize literary personalities. Jacobs, a London-based journalist for more than 30 years, timed his research perfectly: When he began interviewing Kingsley Amis for this book, the septuagenarian was still in good health, his spiky, contrarian wit undimmed. Over the course of two and a half years, the two men met frequently in Amis’s favorite pubs, where the author regaled the journalist with bizarre anecdotes, caustic opinions, and bawdy rhymes. Amis seemed to enjoy recounting his florid past, and’seen through the amber glaze of many a single-malt Macallan—it gained clarity and sharpness. Jacobs observed, however, that Amis’s physical life had become sharply constricted, his body heavy and leaden, almost monstrously childlike. Yet Amis was always a man of contrasts, his emotional neediness and hypochondria offset still by fierce, dismissive intellect. One of the most prolific and plainspoken authors of his generation, Amis wrote 24 novels—including his famous, award-winning debut, Lucky Jim—and more than a dozen collections of poetry, short stories, and criticism. There was nothing in his past to suggest it: Amis was the only son of a business clerk, and his ascent from the perfect obscurity of lower-middle-class London was largely self-willed. But he never quite fit in with his literary peers. Not only was he famously outspoken, he also wrote popular books—an aesthetic decision rooted in his own sense of egalitarianism. As Jacobs explains, Amis did not believe in books —you had to read another book to understand.— Nor does Jacobs himself, who has written an evenhanded and refreshingly direct profile of the man: the soldier, the husband, the father, the boozer, the adulterer, and, above all, the novelist. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: June 16th, 1998
ISBN: 0-312-18602-9
Page count: 392pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1998