Thursday, September 7, 2017

Take A Girl Like You by Kingsley Amis

Schubert's Trout Quintet is playing.  You should really wait for the last movement with the piano bubbling all over  the place like a trout swimming through a frothy river.

 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 YouTake 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 Does he really believe the moral paradigm that traditional relationships grounded in Christian principles to be outdated and incapable?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.

View all my reviews


  1. back when they actually used to play music on the radio, i remember hearing the Trout quite often; i like it and bubbly is a good description...
    i read "Lucky Jim" once and was notably unimpressed... at the time i just thought i wasn't in the in group so i couldn't see what a splendid piece of work it was... but now i just mostly ignore Amis' books as being either over or under my head...

    1. Hi Mudpuddle. We have a public radio station here, but they only play classical music for a couple of hours and the rest is talk, talk, talk. Luckily on my computer I have spotify and also a radio station that streamlines classical music 24/7.

      I thought Lucky Jim and this novel were remarkably well written but the subject matter leaves me non-plussed. I'm not particularly motivated to read another Amis, except his book on the English language. I think that is probably good because he has such superb mastery over it.

    2. Sharon: hmmm, i must have missed something... i hope Herc didn't drink too much... what a bird!

    3. She's a sassy little thing. She was all into my coffee which she is really not supposed to have because it could make her too excited.

  2. Happy belated birthday. I also ask for Amazon Gift Cards as gifts.

    Your description of this book reminds me a little of Alan Sillitoe, Saturday Night and Sunday morning. It contained similar themes involving morality and human nature.

    When I read books like this I tend to suspect irony and that the author is not championing bad behavior. That might be my own bias however.

    1. Thanks, Brian. Amazon gift cards are the best!

      I was wondering about Amis. I don't know enough about him but I did wonder if he was being ironical or simply calling it as he saw it without necessarily condoning it.

      Probably I should read up on him and his personal beliefs.

  3. i neglected to inquire whether the recent violent episode affected your life at all... my son is on his way to Houston for three weeks to help the victims...

    1. No, thank God. We did not get so much as rain, even though we are four hours north if Houston. I take my hat off to you son. People like that are real heroes.

  4. Sounds like the sort of book where I would feel a strong need to shake some sense into the characters. Great picture of you and your pal.

    1. Hi Marcia. Thanks. I know what you mean. Especially the girl. What a naive dope!


I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.