14 September 2009
Kingsley Amis: ONE FAT ENGLISHMAN
I happen to possess a fairly early American edition of Kingsley Amis's One Fat Englishman, an early-1960s paperback published when Amis was just a promising young Briton, long before he became enshrined as potentially one of the UK's more important twentieth-century writers (and it only cost me $2.50!). I say this not to brag, because it's actually in rather sub-par condition, but because it meant that this particular edition lacked the forward-packed-with-literary-analysis-and-appreciation that my well-worn copy of the fabulous Lucky Jim possesses (read Lucky Jim by the way--please, please, please read Lucky Jim). I didn't assume, going into the reading process, that this would matter exceptionally--after all, I figured, half the time I just skip over the things anyway. Well, I was wrong. I found One Fat Englishman, while still as well-written as anything by Amis, to be rather, well, unlikable. In that, I soon found, I was not alone. David Lodge, a talented author in his own right and one of the earliest to spot Amis's literary value (also the author of the forward to my copy of Lucky Jim), wrote in The Guardian that this is the "least likable novel" penned by Amis, and went on to tell us why. Upon initially reading O.F.E., Lodge remarked, he was as unimpressed as I was. Upon rereading it years later, however, he realized that the disgustingly dislikable antihero Roger Micheldene was as much of an Amis stand-in as Lucky Jim had earlier been. Amis had noticed himself becoming more and more conservative, more and more boorish, more and more...well, fat. And hated that part of himself (although he couldn't do anything to avert its eventual dominance). So he wrote a book about it, a book imbued with an almost palpable sense of self-loathing. Does it make this C-grade book easier to read? No, not at all. But it does make one appreciate that One Fat Englishman actually does possess a certain measure of literary and personal merit, and is an appropriate cap to Amis's early period. It's not as much fun as Lucky Jim, no, but it's got its own place, and it belongs there. Thank you, David Lodge--I probably won't skip any more of your forwards.