Girl, 20 by Kingsley Amis
New York : Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972. First American Edition. Hardcover. 253 pages ; 21 cm. $5.95 dust jacket unclipped. Pages are unmarked and binding is firm.
Sir Roy Vandervane, 54, 'successful symphonic conductor, not-quite-top-drawer violinist, composer of the sub-Rachmaninoff persuasion, is sailing through the male climacteric with undiminished ebullience. An ardent interest in protest movements; mod clothes and hair that keeps growing longer; most particularly, infatuations with younger and younger girls—thus does Sir Roy respond to a trying time of life. The new enchantress, the youngest to date, is a highborn hippie named Sylvia, whom any man in his senses would find insufferable. The course of Sir Roy's bewitchment and its effect on his family—primarily on his daughter, Penny, who has a black lover from the Caribbean, and on his present wife, Kitty, who conjures drama from the most mundane events—form the basis for a farce that darkens into tragicomedy.
The sardonic observer of all this is a man twenty years younger than the protagonist. Music critic for a London newspaper, a disenchanted acquaintance of Sir Roy's, an old friend of Kitty's, Douglas Yandell would prefer not to become embroiled in their problems. (His private life has its own erotic complications: he shares his mistress with another man, and he's half in love with Penny.) But, drawn ineluctably into the Vandervane drama, he finds himself lending aid and comfort to both sides at once.
The incidence of wit is high, the pace swift, the denouement unpredictable. Girl, 20, Kingsley Amis's ninth novel, is a brilliant, ruthless, ultimately unnerving survey of current lunacies.
Kingsley Amis has been famous ever since the publication of his first novel, Lucky Jim, in 1954. Between that widely hailed debut and Girl, 20, he has published seven other novels: That Uncertain feeling, I Like It Here, Take a Girl Like You, One Fat Englishman, The Anti-Death League, I Want It Now, and, most recently, his unexpected and successful venture into the supernatural, The Green Man. He is the author, as well, of a collection of short stories, two volumes of poetry, a survey of science fiction entitled New Maps of Hell, and a harvest of literary and personal essays. What Became of Jane Austen?, which appeared in the fall of 1971.
Kingsley Amis was born in 1922 in London, where he now makes his home. He received his education at the City of London School and St. John's College, Oxford, served as a lieutenant in the Royal Corps of Signals in World War If, and taught at the University College of Swansea, in Wales. From 1961 to 1963 he was a Fellow of Peterhouse, Cambridge University, and he has spent two sojourns in the United States: as Visiting Lecturer at Princeton University for 1958-1959, and as Writer in Residence at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, during 1967.
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