2009: 132. The Old Devils

“‘If you want my opinion,’ said Gwen Cellan-Davies, ‘the old boy’s a terrifically distinguished citizen of Wales.  Or at any rate what passes for one these days.’”

The Old Devils, Kingsley Amis

      This is the winner of the 1986 Booker Prize, and the second novel I’ve read by Amis pere (the other, of course being Lord Jim).  It is set in Wales, and tells the story of a bunch of retired men and women, whose regular rounds of gossiping and pub drinking get unsettled when their old friends, the Weavers, move back to to the village.  Alun is a writer/BBC talking head whose made a career out of being a “media Welshman” (and a hobby out of sleeping with any woman who moves, including most of the women in the book), and Rhiannon is the former flame of most of the men in town.  The novel drifts through their return to town and how their return unleashes the passions of the past.  Which all sounds very dramatic, but in fact the book isn’t like that at all.  It’s very casual about all the upheaval, and things happen almost elliptically, so that as a reader you constantly have to be piecing things together (like, did he really just sleep with her? Is that why she slapped him?, etc.).  And the characters are introduced sideways, as well - in fact, the library copy that I borrowed includes a penciled note stating who was married to whom that I found invaluable - otherwise it was hard to keep the characters straight.  I’m not sure whether this manner of writing was a stylistic choice - whether Amis meant to make it all a little jumbled (I’m assuming, since he won the Booker that he did), but once I got the rhythm of it, I enjoyed it.  I liked reading a book about older people that treated them like real people with normal emotions (from passion to crankiness) and I liked the characters - even the bastards had redeeming characteristics (just like real life!) which kept it from being mean-spirited, despite some of the nastier digs the author got in (at Wales, at faux literary-ism, etc.)

Date/Place Completed: November 2009; D.C.

Categories: Fiction; Booker Prize, Book Resolutions


© Carrie Dunsmore 2017