My birthday month is August and Josh gave me a generous Amazon gift card. I kind of went berserk. These are the complete collections of the museum and cities I visited in Italy a couple of summers ago. I am so excited to dig into these!!
Take a Girl Like You by Kingsley Amis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I hardly know what to say about this book. I do not know whether Kingsley Amis is approving of his characters' life choices or trying to come to grips with the abruptly changing moral landscape of England in 1960. Does he really believe the moral paradigm that traditional relationships grounded in Christian principles to be outdated and incapable? Or is he simply calling it as he sees it?
He certainly does not glamorize what he sees as traditional morals' replacement. His characters lead quite dreary lives. But to sum:
Jenny Bunn is a twenty year old girl from the North of England who has traveled south to a town near London to work as a teacher. She lives with Dick and Martha Torkington who rent a room to her and a French girl named Anna.
Jenny is very pretty and she is conscious of that without being particularly concerned, and even if she was unconscious she is constantly reminded of her looks by the wolfish and lustful gazes of every single man she comes into contact with. Even Anna is attracted to her.
Amis' male characters are all lechers who cannot stop themselves from groping, leering, propositioning and otherwise sexually harrassing women. Not that any of the women mind, not even Jenny, who, though a good girl, does not seem to possess any kind of discernment as to the quality of men she should associate with. She doesn't even appear to mind when Anna sexually harasses her, although she makes it clear she's not interested.
Jenny is old-fashioned. She's not particularly religious, but she does believe she should remain a virgin until she's marries because that's how she feels and she's quite firm about it.
Patrick Standish is a young headmaster who teaches at a nearby secondary school and happened to be at the Torkington's when he meets Jenny. He immediately goes about trying to seduce her. Jenny likes Patrick and wants to pursue a relationship with him but makes it clear that they will marry before any sex happens.
Patrick makes it equally clear that marriage is not a goal of his, only sex. And he doesn't have any intention of being monogamous either. He does not hide his opinions from Jenny in either word or deed.
One asks oneself why Jenny would remain interested in someone whose quality of character is laid out so clearly before her. But Jenny seems to live in kind of a somnambulic state as she passively watches her world go by.
Patrick is determined to have her and sleep with her. He gets himself quite worked up to the point where he sleeps with a divorcee while dead drunk (he was dead drunk not she and I'm not quite sure how he accomplished that) and also with an underage girl for whom he "magnanimously" finances an abortion.
As the story progresses we wonder who is going to win? Jenny or Patrick? Jenny never compromises. She gets roofied at a party and Patrick takes advantage of her. Hence he gets what he wants but without her permission.
One then wonders what is going to happen. Is Jenny going to wake up? At first she seems to. She gives Patrick a telling off and asserts she is never going to see him again. I gather that women did not report date rape to the police back then or statutory rape or consider that someone like Patrick is a repulsive sleazeball. Patrick however does not give up and she finally relents.
Her conclusion is that it was unrealistic of her to believe in commitment and marriage and all that. In fact, it was selfish of her to expect more than to be one of Patrick's many amours.
As I read the book, aside from the brilliant and witty writing at which Amis is a master, I wondered if Amis' real point was to show how modern (at the time) life had emptied out all real meaning as regards relationships. That the Church had rendered itself obsolete but had left a moral vacuum into which the young generation had climbed. What was left?
"I don't love you, you don't love me; I am using you but that's all right because you are using me as well and that is the most anyone can expect while they are alive."
If Amis was intending to create a scene of hopelessness and despair, he succeeded.
Luckily, I don't mistake his book for the Gospel.
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