Solid, well-written biography that sheds new light on the life and work of the famed British novelist.
Kingsley Amis (1922–95) protested throughout his long career that his fictions were not autobiographical, though his readers, especially his students and university colleagues, took it as given that Jim Dixon, the protagonist of Amis’s 1953 novel Lucky Jim, was the author’s doppelgänger. In fact, writes Bradford (English/Univ. of Ulster), Amis drew liberally from his own circumstances and the private lives of friends and colleagues to populate his novels, and the biographer pores over his oeuvre to sort out thickly veiled reality from happy inventions, treating that oeuvre as “one of the most entertaining and thought-provoking autobiographies ever produced.” Gently suggesting that Eric Jacobs’s authorized biography (Kingsley Amis, 1998) lent too much credence to its subject’s claims, Bradford improves on it by offering both an entertaining narrative of Amis’s life and well-reasoned commentary on his work, including his often-overlooked travel-writing and poetry. Though clearly an admirer, Bradford does not shy from recounting Amis’s less than admirable qualities, including a fondness for the bottle, for womanizing, and for “conspicuously hedonistic” behavior, to say nothing of his general approval of Margaret Thatcher and his (perhaps) jealousy-sparked feud with his writer son Martin. On the positive side, he shows that Amis, though offhand in public, was a famously hard worker who devoted years (four, in the case of Lucky Jim) to writing and rewriting each of his books, and whose work improved with age, yielding mature, graceful novels such as The Old Devils and You Can’t Do Both that easily outshine his most famous book.
Fans of Amis’s work will enjoy Bradford’s literary detection and unadorned, jargon-free style.