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The Life of Kingsley Amis Hardcover – Import, 24 Apr 2007
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This is one big, fat, and fascinating biography of Kingsley Amis. The author of Lucky Jim and a host of similarly wicked and bright comic novels, Amis enjoyed a productive, flamboyant career as a novelist, poet, critic, teacher, and gadfly--a career that stretched from the 1940s to his death in 1995--at the same time pursuing a private life of serious sexual adventurism. Leader offers a candid, extraordinarily detailed look at both sides of Amis' life, fairly and fully assessing his subject's personal foibles while giving more-than-adequate attention to his considerable literary gifts and accomplishments. At more than 1,000 pages, the book will strike some readers as more information than anyone other than Amis' most passionate admirers will need, but even those who don't read every word will be riveted by the twists and turns of Amis' wild ride through life, and by Leader's deft way of connecting the life to the work. Trygve Thoreson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Praise from the United Kingdom:
“This is a book of true stature about a complex talent. Few literary biographies can match it for depth and intimacy.”
–The Sunday Times
“Outstanding . . . Leader has surpassed himself . . . He gives us not only the man, but also his milieu; he gives us not only the compelling virtues but also the staggering flaws. This is the best biography I have read for ages: deeply researched, crisply written and beautifully judged.” –The Daily Telegraph
“Elegantly organised, lovingly detailed and–how could it not be?–eruptively funny, Zachary Leader’s book is hard to put down.”
“Marvellous . . . It has become a fashion to denounce long biographies as telling us more than we need to know, but Leader’s is a triumphant vindication of its nine-hundred-plus pages. It’s a pleasure to read, and the accumulation of detail gives a real sense of a life being led.”
“Marvellous . . . I ought to say that this book is two hundred pages too long, but as I enjoyed almost every word of it, I can’t.”
“Very thorough and very straight-talking. It’s also very clear in its aims. [Leader] displays the facts of each matter plainly, allowing readers to deliver their own praise and blame, and counterbalances them with his attention to the work. It’s an impressively well-judged response.” –The Guardian
“Full, perceptive and admirably even-handed . . . Considered as a narrative of the growth and decay of character, Leader’s biography starts to assume the features of an Aristotelian tragedy.” –London Review of Books
“My admiration for Leader’s skill as a biographer is unalloyed. It’s a big book, but the interest never flags.”
–The Sunday Telegraph
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
If I was going to pick out a novel of Amis for the uninitiated, I'd have to make it 3 of them to show his versatility: "Lucky Jim", "The Alteration", and "Ending Up". But you wouldn't go wrong with "Take A Girl Like You", "Girl, 20", "The Anti-Death League", his collected short stories or any of his criticism.
By Zachary Leader
This biography of Kingsley Amis runs to nearly 1,000 pages, including notes, index and bibliography. It's the third Life in a little over ten years and the most inclusive. The research is meticulous, incorporating extracts from letters to Conquest, Larkin, Wain and others of the Angry Brigade. Included are passages from Amis's Memoirs, his novels and his poetry. Zachary takes the reader through every stage of his subject's life, from London to Oxford, to Wales, to America and back, giving hundreds of potted biographies en route, and illuminating both Amis's acerbic and his vulnerable side as man and writer.
For those who relished Amis's first novel Lucky Jim, this is a must. Zachary is amusing and informative on literary cabals, academic infighting, spicy gossip and scandal. If you manage to pick this book up you won't put it down easily. It offers book groups enough material for a year, a veritable treasure house for the Amis fan.
In fact however Leader's style is down to a combination of academic virtuosity and prodigious research. Reading this, you get the feeling there is no-one who ever met Amis he hasn't talked to and made notes on. Consequently, during his account of any event in his life, you get references to different articles, conversations, references and asides that any number of acquaintances have come up with. Until you get used to it this makes the book very hard to read.
This is not the kind of biography where the author tells a story. Nor is it one where the author feels obliged to burden us with his opinions. But he does want to make sure we have understood the opinions of everyone who was involved at any time.
At no point is Leader analytical. When it comes to the difficulties or tragedies in Amis's life, we are spared sermons or even anything but his casual opinions. We are just told the story in unremitting - if appropriate - detail.
In the end I got enormous enjoyment, captivated by Amis's life. I got used to the style and it all flowed along. It was also easy to skip the odd page when the events discussed were not of interest without losing the rhythm.
I had read about eight of Amis's novels recently and wanted to know more about him and about his other works. This book works well for that as each book is discussed for itself and also situated in Amis's life.
The discussion of Amis's family life is rewarding and moving. You get the goods without being given the benefit of any moralising.
I don't read a lot of literary biographies, but I would have thought this a model.