Kingsley Amis (1922–1995) was a popular and prolific British novelist, poet, and critic, widely regarded as one of the greatest satirical writers of the twentieth century. Born in suburban South London, the only child of a clerk in the office of the mustard-maker Colman’s, he went to the City of London School on the Thames before winning an English scholarship to St. John’s College, Oxford, where he began a lifelong friendship with fellow student Philip Larkin. Following service in the British Army’s Royal Corps of Signals during World War II, he completed his degree and joined the faculty at the University College of Swansea in Wales. Lucky Jim, his first novel, appeared in 1954 to great acclaim and won a Somerset Maugham Award. Amis spent a year as a visiting fellow in the creative writing department of Princeton University and in 1961 became a fellow at Peterhouse College, Cambridge, but resigned the position two years later, lamenting the incompatibility of writing and teaching (“I found myself fit for nothing much more exacting than playing the gramophone after three supervisions a day”). Ultimately he published twenty-four novels, including science fiction and a James Bond sequel; more than a dozen collections of poetry, short stories, and literary criticism; restaurant reviews and three books about drinking; political pamphlets and a memoir; and more. Amis received the Booker Prize for his novel The Old Devils in 1986 and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1990. He had three children, among them the novelist Martin Amis, with his first wife, Hilary Anne Bardwell, from whom he was divorced in 1965. After his second, eighteen-year marriage to the novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard ended in 1983, he lived in a London house with his first wife and her third husband.
Sir Roy Vandervane (a Leonard Bernstein-esque, but very British, conductor) has been known to indulge in dalliances with younger women, but in the highborn hippie Sylvia, he might have met his match. In Girl, 20, famous curmudgeon and wit Kingsley Amis deals a double-punch to radical chic and Flower Power. “Sir Roy is a first-class character, possibly Amis’s best.”—Anatole Broyard
Amis sent Roger Micheldene, the titular hero of One Fat Englishman to America (he is a visiting professor at Budweiser College) as a fictional emissary, avenging the wrongs done to the Old World by the vulgar, consumerist New. But the joke is on Roger, obese, bumbling, and outsmarted at every turn by unobliging housewives, clever novelists, and even neighborhood deer. “Very funny…splendidly slapstick…and serious too.”—TLS
In Kingsley Amis’s virtuoso foray into alternate history, it is 1976 but the modern world is a medieval relic, frozen in intellectual and spiritual time ever since Martin Luther was promoted to pope back in the sixteenth century. “One of the best—possibly the best—alternate-worlds novels in existence.”— Philip K. Dick
“A thoroughly contemporary ghost story … in the uncomplicated, old-fashioned sense. As one might expect from the author of Lucky Jim, The Green Man is also an extremely funny book, filled with slapstick, parody and satire. Indeed, the success of this short novel depends very much on the balance that Amis maintains between fear and laughter.”—The New York Times
This campus comedy launched Kingsley Amis’s career and made him the reluctant voice of a generation. Neither its vitriol nor its wit has dulled with the years. “Remarkable for its relentless skewering of artifice and pretension, Lucky Jim also contains some of the finest comic set pieces in the language.” —Olivia Laing, The Observer
Winner of the 1986 Booker Prize, and considered by his son Martin to be Kingsley Amis’s greatest achievement, The Old Devils is delightful proof that neither Amis nor his characters mellowed in old age. In fact, a placid life is just the thing that Amis denies his old devils, whose routines of nattering, complaining, and drinking, are thrown into chaos when an old friend and rival (now a successful writer) returns to town with a new and entrancing wife.