Snobs, toffs, shags and old farts
The Biographer's Moustache by Kingsley Amis Flamingo, pounds 9.99; D J Taylor finds unconvincing satire and insufficient roman in Kingsley Amis's new novel
Perhaps it's merely that the subject - the biographical subject, that is - is so unappetising. Jimmie Fane, the elderly man of letters on whom the fortysomething hack Gordon Scott-Thompson fixes his sights, turns out to be an unctuous old snob, an habitue of a gentleman's club named "Gray's" (geddit?) in whom linguistic pedantry has become a kind of mania: a colossal bore, but on the Amis scale perhaps not boring enough. Joanna, his much younger wife, is a shade more interesting, particularly when she and Gordon begin an affair, Gordon having given his diffident girlfriend Louise the heave-ho. Various sub-plots quiver. Jimmie's rackety past (there are three former Mrs Fanes) surfaces in the person of a cheery old lady named Madge Walker, whom Jimmie stood up in the 1940s. Scott-Thompson senior warns his son not to "mistake class for decency." Some kind of climax is reached at a country weekend, hosted by a cretinous peer, to which the Fanes, Gordon and Louise are bidden.
Irony, inevitably, lurks behind the firescreens. Having decided that Jimmie is an A1 shit - he is apparently about to ditch Joanna for a rematch with wife number two - Gordon resolves to do his biographical duty, only to find that his publishers' rapacious accountants have cancelled the contract. Joanna and Jimmie patch it up, Louise gets affianced to the noble lord and the novel ends at their posh engagement party.
While neither shift of perspective - Gordon's move from mild nob-fancying to peeved disgust, Louise's transformation from aggrieved egalitarian to ducal wife - is particularly convincing, there is much else amiss with The Biographer's Moustache. The dialogue comes in two generic flavours, toff and middle-class, and in each case is wholly undifferentiated. The social apercus seem about 30 years out of date. Even odder are the Ishiguro- like post-modern flourishes (or could it be laziness?) that enliven the closing stages, in which Gordon keeps arriving at places armed with knowledge uncommunicated to the reader.
There are occasional revealing vignettes, as when Jimmie, walking in the country with Gordon, capably deals with an autograph hunter who mistakes him for someone else. Gordon's failure to conciliate a similarly confused dinner guest echoes this scene and betrays his own lamentable want of social panache. In the end, though, there are just too many half-page conversations about what people are having to drink, and too many rambling, broken-backed sentences. Unfortunately You Can't Do Both, which looked as if it might inaugurate an Amis Indian Summer now seem to have been a solitary beacon pulsing amid the late-period gloom.
Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'music
Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 iPhone 6 review: bigger, thinner, faster, brighter - Apple proves you can make the best better
- 2 Sports Direct security guard allegedly banned Jewish schoolboys and told them: 'No Jews, no Jews'
- 3 Pakistani passenger power forces two politicians off plane
- 4 Say yes to 'no-poo': It's been three years since I stopped washing my hair
- 5 John Travolta addresses former pilot's gay romance allegations publicly for the first time: 'That was the lowest I'd ever felt'
Emma Thompson admits being frightened ahead of Sweeney Todd West End appearance
Robin Thicke admits he did not write 'Blurred Lines'
Colin Firth and Emma Stone on starring in Magic in the Moonlight: Woody Allen's 1920s romance
Lego breaks out of the toy box and heads for the gallery
Doctor Who series 8: Time Heist pictures revealed ahead of episode 5
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
The political class is doing what Hitler couldn’t – destroying Britain
Scottish independence: Nationalist leader Jim Sillars threatens pro-union companies with 'day of reckoning' after independence
Scottish independence: Yes campaign feels the heat as Alex Salmond's NHS claims come under furious attack
Portuguese academic says British are 'filthy, violent and drunk'