Kingsley Amis, along with being the funniest English writer of his generation (see Lucky Jim) and a master of literary genres (his ghost story, The Green Man; his foray into science fiction, The Alteration), was a great chronicler of the fads and absurdities of his age. This is nowhere more apparent than in One Fat Englishman, from 1963, and Girl, 20, which came out almost a decade later, books that survey the social landscape of mid-century England and America with an unflinching accuracy and hilarious disdain.
The hero of One Fat Englishman, a literary publisher and lapsed Catholic escaped from the pages of Graham Greene to the campus of Budweiser College in provincial Pennsylvania, is philandering, drunken, bigoted, and very very fat, not to mention in a state of continuous spluttering rage against everything, not least his own overgrown self. In America, he must deal with not so obliging suburban housewives out of John Updike, aspiring Jewish novelists who as good as clean his clock, stray deer, bad cigars, children who beat him at Scrabble (“It was no wonder that people were horrible when they started life as children,” Roger thinks), and America itself, as he makes ever-more desperate and humiliating overtures to Helen, a Scandinavian ice queen. If only Roger would dare to show some real feeling of his own. This comic masterpiece about the 1950s crashing drunkenly into the consumerist 1960s and a final scion of a disintegrating Old World empire encountering its upstart New World offspring, is one of Amis’s greatest and most caustic performances.
In the light of Amis’s subsequent literary development, and all the biographical information that has emerged since his death, it seems a much more comprehensible and interesting novel—also much funnier, in its black way, than I remembered…. One Fat Englishman is certainly a much less comfortable read than Lucky Jim, but no longer seems as inferior to it as I once thought.
—David Lodge, The Guardian
[Protagonist] Roger Micheldene is a fat, slothful, lecherous and wrathful English publisher in the United States on as little business as he can get away with. This novel chronicles his attempts to drink as many drinks, eat as many meals and seduce as many women during his short stay as is humanly possible.
—The New York Times Book Review
Very funny…splendidly slapstick…and serious too…. A satire of wit and intelligence that class it with the best.
—The Times Literary Supplement
Amis’s funniest novel since Lucky Jim.
The book is an underhand attack on the Englishman at large…. Amis gets in a few telling swipes at Americans and nymphomaniacs and gourmets and the people in publishing business and anything you care to mention and manages at the same time to write a beautifully witty novel.
Mr. Amis is a subtle writer…. He has managed to write a commentary on America without seeming to write a commentary on America.
—*The Washington Post
Whatever happened to Lucky Jim? He got fat. That’s the answer Kingsley Amis gives us ten years and four novels on and many people are going to find it hilariously diverting. Rightly so.
The conversation is corrosive; and the characterizations, wickedly penetrating. Not to be missed.
Roger Micheldene, the fat Englishman, who is the titular hero of Kingsley Amis’s new novel, is easily the most repulsive figure that the imaginative Amis has invented so far, and that is saying a good deal.
Like the early Evelyn Waugh, Amis has perfected the cool contemptuous tone so necessary to the comedy of bestiality, an extreme form of caricature that permits no faltering sympathy for its subject. Technically, the novel is virtually without flaw.
—The Washington Post
Kingsley Amis writes of his fat Englishman with a mixture of contempt and sympathy. The sympathy is hard to share.
—The New York Times