Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Kingsley, Martin, and fuck off!

One other thing I admire about Martin Amis's Experience, which I wrote about on Monday, is its clear-eyed assessment of Kingsley's fiction. Martin is a fan, claiming (not unreasonably) that his father was the best postwar comic novelist (to say nothing of his position as "the poet laureate of the hangover"). While he acknowledges that not all of Kingsley's novels are wholly successful (and that many of the failures are deeply misogynistic), he finds something to admire in nearly all of them, and what's more, he's convincing in his argument, deftly illustrating points (in the fiction and the life) with well-chosen examples that make you want to read the novels in question. (Fortunately for all of us, the New York Review of Books is in the process of republishing a number of them, starting of course with Lucky Jim and the bitter but admirable and hilarious Old Devils and moving on from there. Gods, of all stripes, bless the NYRB Classics.)

The following passage, from The Old Devils is probably my favorite that Martin cites. Charlie, the protagonist, is rescued from a tortuous public dedication of a statue by his friend Alun with his car. As they drive off, Alun pokes his head out of the window and tells Pugh, the Welsh-loving American who has made the dedication such a stultifying experience, to fuck off. Then:
"They do say fuck off in America, don't they?" asked Alun anxiously.

"I'm sure they understand it."

. . . Alun laughed quietly for a short time, shaking his head in indulgent self-reproach. . . . He lowered his voice and went on, "Hey--timing really was important for that. I got badly caught in Kilburn once telling a Bulgarian short-story writer . . . to fuck off for two or three minutes while the chap driving the open car I was sitting in turned round in the cul-de-sac I hadn't noticed we were at the end of. Amazing how quickly the bloom fades on fuck off, you know. Say it a couple of times running and you've got out of it nearly all you're going to get."

"And there's not a lot you can go on to later," said Charlie.

"Well exactly."
Profanity aside, that last exchange could almost be between Bertie and Jeeves. And what comic joy there is in the phrase "Amazing how quickly the bloom fades on fuck off, you know." It feels wholly like an of-the-moment thought, something that presents itself in the moment as an actual revelation, while also being utterly ridiculous.

And now I'm going to have to read more Kingsley.

{Side note: I was surprised to learn that both Kingsley and Martin admired Iris Murdoch and thought her the best female novelist of her generation. I think I had known at one point, but forgotten, Kingsley's admiration, but I was surprised to be reminded--I would have thought her melodrama and muddles too much for him. But of course there are plenty of people who've accused Murdoch of misogyny, too . . . }

1 comment:

  1. Amazing how quickly the bloom fades on fuck off, you know. Say it a couple of times running and you've got out of it nearly all you're going to get.

    So true. A late friend, a high school teacher, used to show her kids a 10 minute film that consisted of one person after another saying the word "fuck." That pretty much took care of her kids using that word again in her classroom.