Kingsley Amis was just back from his hols which had been ‘wet outside and in’. We met at the offices of his publishers, Century Hutchinson. Every five minutes (or so it seemed), some glamorous young publishing person would stick her or his (usually her) head around the door to check that Amis was ‘all right’. Perhaps they expected to. discover their most distinguished money-earner locked in a vicious half-Nelson, or undergoing some irreversible brain-washing hypnosis, the fuss they made. I had come in to discuss with him his latest novel, The Old Devils. The talk kicked off, however, with a grouse about how the Spectator had cut his recent article on the use of explicit sexual description in novels. At one point they’d shortened the phrase ‘Harold Robbins, whose novel The Storyteller’ to ‘Harold Robbins, whose The Storyteller’. ‘I hate that construction, don’t you?’ groaned Amis, who is a tireless spotter of ungainly locutions, and who makes you just a bit anxious about minting one or two of your own in his presence. ‘I’ve written a stiff letter to the editor asking him whether he would say "Can I borrow your The Times?" You can just imagine, can’t you, a discussion that went: "Well, we’ve got to remember, haven’t we, that it’s not your The Times or my The Times, it’s Rupert Murdoch’s The Times." You’d sound like a bloody lunatic.’ Having unburdened himself of this with great gusto, he passed on to the new book.
The Old Devils is one of Amis’s best novels, which means that it’s a very good novel indeed: ‘seriously’ excellent, as one of his characters would put it. He seems with this and with the last two that have a contemporary setting Jake’s Thing, Stanley and the Woman) to have