Kingsley Amis may only be thirteen years dead and Martin Amis still a year or so short of his sixtieth birthday, but all this – the books by and about them, the detailed analysis of novels that are sometimes not quite strong enough to bear the weight of critical explication – has been going on for a very long time. On the shelf beside me as I write this are, in chronological order, Kingsley’s Memoirs (1991), Eric Jacobs’s Kingsley Amis: A Biography (1995), Martin’s Experience (2000), Zachary Leader’s edition of The Letters of Kingsley Amis (2000), Richard Bradford’s Lucky Him (2001), advertised as a ‘biography’ but in fact an exceptionally astute critical survey, and Leader’s jumbo-sized The Life of Kingsley Amis (2006). They are all interesting books, up to a point, but there are an awful lot of them and the message emerging from their three or four thousand collective pages is generally the same. No disrespect, therefore, to say of Neil Powell and his thoughtfully written study that one can think of novelists twice as good who have attracted half the volume of scholarly, or not so scholarly, exegesis.
Biographies of Kingsley Amis necessarily turn upon a single question: how to account for what the late Ian Hamilton, reviewing the Memoirs, called the ‘deeper enmity’ of the Amis stance, an antagonism towards – well, it might be anything from Nabokov’s prose style to a presumptuous sub-editor – that seems