Take a girl like You, by Kingsley Amis: Gollancz. 18s.
kingsley aims’s latest novel, Take A Girl Like You, reads “splendidly, brilliantly, wildly, variously” (all adverbs by courtesy of Punch and The Evening Standard). And if only criticism were simply one reader’s report, this would be sober truth. Particularly if that reader had just put the novel down in a state of total vacancy before settling to a deep, troubled sleep. He might wake with something that could only be a mild hang-over; and wonder who had thrown the wild party last night, or had he, perish the thought been privately soaking? Anyway, seme sort of good time had clearly been had; and good times don’t usually bear much investigation. So, if he were a reviewer for Punch or The Evening Standard, he would write vague, cheerful copy full of drugged goodwill about that latest Kingsley Amis, and then get out quick for a breath of fresh air.
Only then would he realise the good time was the Amis; and that long ago last night he had been doing his duty by his editor and actually—even riotously—reading the book under review, if you could call “falling under the influence”, reading. And yet, he might ask himself, what really did happen? Who laid on the inexhaustible booze? Ane what about all that “Splendidly, brilliantly, wildly, variously” witty party-patter—and that madly irreverent gag-man, drunk with words and whisky, who tried to make out he was a public-school teacher of classics? He couldn’t fool me, though. Judging by all those literary allusions (and I was pretty clever, I picked them all up) to Four Quartets and Dr. Leavis (please sir, I know who talks about “limiting judgments”) and Villiers de l’Isle Adam, he must have been an English Literature don out on spree.
You see, really he was on about literature half the time, though hardly so that you would notice. Full of allusions to Pamela and Clarissa—by some pompous, old eighteenth century hack if my Penguin Guide is still up to date; 1 recognised a name, Mrs. Sinclair, and a dream about tigers, and a girl he had just had (a bit of a teaser) while she was slewed. Funny that, really, because at all the other parties he’s given, he’s always been down on the literature racket. I remember he once picked on some inflated bit of anglo-saxon muck—a poem about Christ, or something (he said you wouldn’t have heard of it unless you read English at Oxford), and gave it a fair old going over, really trampled all over it with bloody great hobnail boots. I remember he called it “an orang-outang’s toilettissue”, and made us really hoot. So it’s funny he should keep referring to old Richardson. Still, I suppose some literature’s more literary than other literature.
He must have been really one over the eight, because he kept mixing up Pamela with that northerntype girl with the funny name—what was it? No, surely, it couldn’t have been Jenny Bunn. No, that don-chap in disguise—who kept calling himself Patrick Standish (some naughty Eng. Lit. pun there, I suppose)—tried to pretend her father was a hearse driver. He must have been pulling my leg, though it’s a nice idea. Well, this so-called Jenny Bunn got really boozed-up, and got taken advantage of by that Standish-type, which 1 thought was taking it a bit far. Still, it really was quite a party, quite a romp.
The trouble with parties, if they are open to all and sundry, is that some glum teetollaer might wander in and just plonk himself down all night with a glass of fizzy pop and simply keep watch. Some of the alcoholic spirit will enter him too by proxy and leave him with a purely mental hang-over. But meanwhile the pokerfaced spoil-sport will have watched with fishy eyes all the transitions from funny talk to romping to frenzy to hysteria. And at five next morning in the greasy dawn light, he’ll still be there, while everyone else is in bed with everyone else, disenchantedly watching his host still mouthing among the horribly vivid debris of his good time. Poor host, he thinks the party is still going on all round him, spun-round by every wicked jibe, whereas it is insulated from him, far gone in sleep. But still it goes on, music-hall gabble, his dervish whirl of words, gag breeding gag in geometric progression.
But if you look at his eyes, you see that all the time they are brimming with boredom, isolation and something rather desperate. The words are a wall behind which he is cowering. Yet they are off-hand, throwaway, in-the-know words that proclaim with a kind of button-holing I’ll-be-quite-frank-with-you intimacy