Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Two by Amis, Pere

The Green Man
The Green Man 

"Death's an integral part of life, after all.  We settle for it by the mere act of being born.  Let's face it, Mr.. Allington, it is possible to take the end of the road a bloody sight too seriously." (p 168)

The Green Man is an enjoyable ghost story laced with the sort of witty dialogue common in Amis novels – and yet it constitutes a more than negligible statement about personality, purpose and ethics in the late-20th century world of its setting. Thomas Underhill’s lust is still evident after three centuries of extra-corporeal existence – his mastery of the black arts and his circumvention of death have not cured him. The protagonist, Maurice Allington, sees something of Underhill in himself when his wife throws up his orchestration of the orgy as just a way of “experimenting” with other people, just as Underhill intended to experiment on Amy, and looks forward, as the novel closes, to the release from his personality that death will bring him. It is not a stretch to see in this Amis’s view of the new generation, with its proclivity for “experimental lifestyles” of all sorts that mainly take account only of the individual conducting the experiment (well-represented in the novel by the pseudo-radical priest Tom Rodney Sonnenschein). Indeed, God, as the young man, is seen in the novel as being a sort of experimenter Himself, which earns Him more than a whiff of Amis’s contempt.
The humor and irony abound in this light read from the pen of Kingsley Amis.

The Anti Death League: A Novel
The Anti Death League: A Novel 

With The Anti-Death League Amis begins to show some of the experimentation – with content, if not with style – which would be a hallmark of his work for more than a decade. Amis’s departure from the strict realism of his early comedic novels is not so abrupt as might first appear. He had avidly read science fiction since a boy, and had developed that interest into the Christian Gauss Lectures of 1958, while visiting Princeton University. The lectures were published in that year as New Maps of Hell: a Survey of Science Fiction, a serious but light-handed treatment of what the genre had to say about man and society. Amis was particularly enthusiastic about the dystopian works of Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth, and in New Maps of Hell coined the term "comic inferno" to describe a type of humorous dystopia, particularly as exemplified in the works of Robert Sheckley. Amis further displayed his devotion to the genre in editing, with the Sovietologist Robert Conquest, the science fiction anthology series Spectrum I–V, which drew heavily upon 1950s numbers of the magazine Astounding Science Fiction.
Though not explicitly science fiction, The Anti-Death League takes liberties with reality not found in Amis’s earlier novels, and introduces a speculative bent into his fiction. This is one of the aspects that drew me to this work. I was also impressed that The Anti-Death League made it to Anthony Burgess's list of his favorite 99 novels. Several of my favorite, sometimes less-well-known novels, are on his list which I find a valuable resource. Ultimately this Amis novel was not as satisfying as I expected it would be, but a good light read instead.

The Green Man by Kingsley Amis.  Ballantine Books, 1971 (1969)
The Anti-Death League by Kingsley Amis. Ballantine Books, 1971 (1966)

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