I didn't find it very funny. On the whole I find comic novels hard going. There is the incomparable Wodehouse and there are the rest. Perhaps comedy dates quickly. Even Shakespeare's jokes are pretty poor and the only humour comes from the physical stuff and that's often down to the reinterpretation of the actors rather than the script.
This novel has some set pieces. There is the excruciating evening of madrigals at the house of Jim's professor, a classically bad driver. There is the dilemma of what to do when Jim wakes up as a guest in the professors house to find that an inattentive cigarette has burned his bedclothes, a bedside table, and a rug. There is the Summer Ball and the public lecture that Jim delivers, as usual, drunk. The best set piece was the slow bus ride to the station. There were some good bits in these set pieces.
There is, of course, the character of Jim. He gets so bored. And then he starts to pick fights. He imitates people and gets caught in the middle of the mockery. And he gets into hopelessly misunderstood tangles with girls, their boyfriends, and his professor.
But the best thing about this book is that Kingsley Amis actually writes very well indeed. There are some wonderfully original descriptions, especially of awkward social situations.
- "He paused, and his trunk grew rigid as he walked; it was as if some entirely different man, some imposter who couldn't copy his voice, had momentarily taken his place." (C 1)
- "Fury flared up in his mind like forgotten toast under a grill." (C 3)
- "His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum." (C 6)
- "It was clear he was about to blow his nose. This was usually horrible, if only because it drew unwilling attention to Welch's nose itself, a large, open-pored tetrahedron." (C 8)
- "The thin red second hand swung smoothly round the dial, giving the illusion of time rapidly passing. The other hands pointed to five past nine." (C 2)
- "He could only just handle her as a female friend; as her 'lover' he'd be a cowboy facing his first, and notoriously formidable, steer." (C 5)
Other great moments:
- "I think I had some idea about wanting to have some sort of noise going on while I was ... going off." (C 2)
- "Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way." (C 6)
- "How wrong people always were when they said: 'It's better to know the worst than go on not knowing either way'. No; they had it exactly the wrong way round. Tell me the turth, doctor, I'd sooner know. But only if the truth is what I want to hear." (C 8)
- "Those who professed themselves unable to believe in the reality of human progress ought to cheer themselves up ... by a short study of the Middle Ages. ... Had people ever been as nasty, as self-indulgent, as dull, as miserable, as cocksure, as bad at art, as dismally ludicrous, or as wrong as they'd been in the ... Middle Ages?" (C 8)
- "Dixon reflected firstly how inefficient a bar to wasting one's time was the knowledge that one was wasting it." (C 10)
- "Christine's aim, he imagined, had been to show off the emphasis of her natural colouring and skin-texture. The result was painfully successful, making everybody else look like an assemblage of granulated half-tones." (C 10)
- "Your attitude measures up to the two requirements of love. You want to go to bed with her and can't, and you don't know her very well." (C 12)
March 2020; 251 pages