Mr. Amis’s presence in my title has to do with an article called ‘There’s Hope For The Novel Yet’ which appeared in The Observer in its issue of April 27, and is relevant to the general critical point I wish to make in this discussion of two recent novels. As the readers of TLR will know, the occasion for Mr Amis’s article was the first annual National Book Award, sponsored by the Arts Council, for which Mr Amis had been judging ‘the fiction entries’. The article is a report on his experience of reading ‘a lot of novels’. The opening four or five paragraphs of this curious piece are worth quoting. Here is the very first paragraph:
What a lot of novels, I thought to myself when the entries arrived, and what a lot of novelists I’d never heard of, having years ago given up reading reviews of new fiction, let alone new fiction itself, except when friends or clown figures were involved.
If what Mr Amis has to tell us about his reading preference in recent years is true, then we must question the Arts Council’s wisdom in asking him to judge ‘the fiction entries’ – as, indeed, we must question Mr Amis’s own wisdom