BOOK REVIEW / Twitch on the thread: 'Mr Barrett's Secret' - Kingsley Amis: Hutchinson, 14.99

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THE ONE story that bristles with life in this otherwise embalmed collection is 'A Twitch on the Thread'. God, so the old Church saying goes, would never let a Christian soul escape from Him. It may wander to the ends of Creation, but He would bring it back with a mere twitch on the thread.

Daniel, once an alcoholic, is a conscientious clergyman and reasonably contented except for worries about his depressive wife, Ruth. One day, Leo, his identical twin, appears outside his house. Same eyes, same face, same everything - even down to a depressive wife called Ruth. Daniel, who had no idea he had a twin, is filled with foreboding. Leo, something of an expert on the subject of identical twins, tells him about the latest findings.

When he discovers that Leo (also a parson but in the Episcopal church) had once been an alcoholic like him, and was converted by the same process - forming a 'personal understanding with JC' his sense of himself as unique evaporates. He is further demoralised by learning from his wife's latest doctor about the power of mood-altering drugs. There is, it appears, no ghost in the machine. He feels the twitch on the thread, but from that grand puppet-master genetic programming. A diabolical blackness, probably from within himself, overwhelms him.

In his final catapult back into the puddles on the bar-room floor Daniel fails to see the big difference between himself and Leo. For Leo their similarities are more proof of God's greatness and he returns, radiant, back to the fold, leaving Daniel to go on the rampage.

This is vintage Amis, written with zest and that old deadly aim. As for the rest, we have Mr Barrett with a bee in his bonnet about his daughter's swarthy suitor; a rejected writer taking bizarre revenge on a rude literary agent; a Buchanesque spy story complete with a code and the Charge of the Light Brigade from a new point of view (written as a radio play). All delightfully quirky concepts, but written in jobbing writer's prose.