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The Old Devils Hardcover – Jun 1994


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From Publishers Weekly

The 1986 winner of England's Booker Prize, and by all accounts doing very well over there, this novel about a group of elderly Welsh people and their romantic and alcoholic shenanigans is likely to have tougher sledding on this side of the Atlantic. Amis, as usual, offers some funny and even touching moments, but his peculiarly elliptical comic style takes some getting used to. His four aging couplesthree stay-at-homes, responding to the return among them of a TV poet, who has been a success in England, and his wifeare well enough characterized, but once the reader is inside their heads, they all think Amis thoughts: often surly, resentful, nostalgic and deeply conservative. (In one remarkable lunchtime scene several of the protagonists grumble about "the penal system, the health service, the BBC, black people," varying this with "eulogies of President Reagan, Enoch Powell, the South African government, the Israeli hawks . . . ," and there is no indication the author is anything but sympathetic.) The sheer quantity of boozing that goes on is dizzyingthe men favoring whiskey and gin, the women (no really glaring misogyny here, only the usual undertone of Amis dislike) white wine. The expertise on the stages of drunkenness and hangover is, as always, awesome, but by the rather unfocused ending, which includes a sudden death, a wedding and a tentative reconciliation, the reader is likely to be as befuddled as most of the characters.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

"The Old Devils" are aged drinking partners whose number is enlarged and enlivened when poet Alun Weaver and his wife Rhiannon return to Wales. Alun is a letch, a "frightful shit" in the words of one acquaintance, and Rhiannon still a beauty. Like pebbles dropped into a still pond, the Weavers set off a series of emotional waves that are still breaking at novel's end. Along the way Amis has characteristic fun with sex, drink, and fakery yet displays a largess of spirit lacking in his other geriatric comedy, Ending Up (1974). At least one happy ending is awarded here, to a character who had written off maturity as "an interval between two bouts of vomiting." This winner of Britain's Booker Prize is caustic, verbally dextrousand highly recommended. Grove Koger, Boise P.L., Id.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Amazon.com: 18 reviews
31 of 39 people found the following review helpful
rare is the book March 4 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Rare is the book that leaves one red-eyed with laughter. Rarer still the book that turns the same embarrassing trick (I try to avoid reading this book in public), after a dozen dog-eared readings. The aging Weavers, also-ran poet Alun and trophy-wife Rhiannon, return to a small Welsh hornet's nest after fair-to-middling success in London. Rakish Alun, with enough of his hair left to engender envy, but lacking the stature that would safely have hoisted him above the slings and arrows of envy's snipery, is asking for it. Kingsley Amis (the millionaire's father), apparently as cynical a wit as ever there was, masters his prose as well as he shepherds his readers' use of it, wise to the fact that no fool is half so funny as a loved one. The reader is made to love the titular devils, logy duffers all, of "The Old Devils", giving the lie to the very concept of so-called "identity fiction" (i.e.: WASPS prefer reading about WASPS; Gay Blacks about Gay Blacks). These doddering Welsh cranks could hardly be less like this particular reader, but Amis fits their false teeth in my mouth and wedges their swollen ankles into my shoes with clubby, back-patting authority. Peer through his microscope into this acre or two of Wales and you will be jarred with a salutary sight: life as we know it. He was an old enough devil himself to pull the trick off. (That there also seem present autiographical clues to Amis' own less-than-placid second marriage is beneath our concern, correct?)
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Sad and Funny- A Poignant, Worthwhile Read Feb. 25 2006
By oe - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book is about everything-- How can you sum up life near the end? Is it possible to change, and if so, is it worth the bother? etc. It left me with shivers. It seemed an innocent, comic enough read at first, with devestating insights tossed casually in among descriptions of curmudgeonly drunkenness and inter-sexual miscommunication. By the end, it has turned into something else, a book about death and love imbued with humor. I found it much more meaningful and poignant in the end than Martin's postmodern gimmickry and suspect it will stay with me for some time.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Patience required Sept. 26 2010
By TChris - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It took some time, but the characters in The Old Devils--elderly friends in South Wales who spend most of their time discussing the condition of being Welsh--grew on me as I worked my way through the chapters. Amis is a master of dry wit. I'm sure I would have a deeper appreciation of the humor in The Old Devils if I knew more about Wales or the Welsh. Fortunately, Amis found a number of other targets for his wit that transcend nationality: lecherous old men, the women who encourage them, gossips, hypocrites, drinkers, academics and poets among them. He also teases wonderfully comic moments from malfunctioning bowels, adulterous desires, social posturing, road trips, and inebriation.

Most of the central characters in the ensemble cast have full and distinct personalities and unique sets of behaviors. Some of the personalities are quirky, some introspective. Most are repressed but some manage to experience and display emotions. Some are funny and some are a little sad and most are sometimes a little annoying--but who isn't? That seems to be one of the points Amis explicitly attempted to make. It took me awhile to start appreciating these characters but by the middle of the novel I was hooked on them. They became kind of like the relative you care about but don't want to visit very often. I give Amis props for making them so convincing.

This isn't a plot-driven novel. The story unfolds at a leisurely pace, following slow-moving people with aging minds and bodies. Other than a couple of big events, both near the end of the book, nothing much happens. I wouldn't call it plodding but I wouldn't say the writing is lively either. If you are in a mood to be patient, the characters and the fun Amis has with them make the novel worth reading.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
The foibles, follies, and infirmities of age April 20 2010
By R. M. Peterson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
THE OLD DEVILS won the Booker Prize for Kingsley Amis in 1986. The title refers to an ensemble of six couples, all of whom are in their sixties (as was Amis when he wrote the novel). It is set in South Wales, where five of the couples have lived their adult lives. (One motif of the novel is a gentle spoofing of Wales and the Welsh.) The action kicks off with the return to Wales of the sixth couple, the Weavers, from London. Alun Weaver is an inveterate womanizer and, off and on, he has been the paramour of two of the other wives, while Rhiannon Weaver had been the youthful heartthrob of two of the husbands. Their return releases a certain frisson amongst the old devils - making for something resembling a John Updike novel, only British, more genteel, and less sexually explicit.

Thus, a second motif has to do with the return to (or remembrance of) the flings and flames of youth. For most, this turns out to be a variation in the never-ending state of war - or, at best, state of misunderstanding and confusion - between the sexes. But the dominant theme of the novel is the slackening of age - such things as bowel movements, disintegrating teeth, increasing mass, the ordeal of dressing, and a haphazard memory. And virtually everyone - male or female - anesthetizes the onset of old age and its aches and pains with liberal, daily doses of alcohol.

None of the characters is heroic, but all are human. Amis exposes their foibles, follies, and infirmities, but he does so gently, compassionately, with wisdom and, always, with understated humor. Almost every page is marked with dry wit, such as this random example: "His second large Scotch and dry ginger was beginning to get to him and already he could turn his head without thinking it over first. Soon it might cease to be one of those days that made you sorry to be alive."

When I first read THE OLD DEVILS in 1987, I enjoyed it. Now I hesitate to use the word "enjoy". It hits a little too close to home, and I ruefully see myself a little more frequently than I would like. Thus, I think it safe to say that the novel will be most appreciated by those in the autumn of their lives. Unfortunately, as of this posting, the novel appears to be out of print. It may itself be middle-aged as a work of literature (it is not one of the immortal classics), but it doesn't deserve the fate of such an early demise. 4-1/2 stars.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
AMIS THE WRITING Nov. 2 2008
By DAVID BRYSON - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Kingsley Amis was into his 60's when this book appeared, I am almost out of mine by now so I thought it was time I read it, and I am very pleased that I have. If you know Amis's style you will find this novel very typical of it. If you don't know his style it is still very typical of it. It is ironic without being too heavy or tendentious, it is beautifully easy to read, its outlook is individual and there is real human sympathy behind the show of being unsentimental.

I greatly liked the setting, a rural community in South Wales harbouring a small colony of cod-Welsh literary poseurs. How `authentic' the scenario may be I have really no idea, but that is not a problem for the reader I wouldn't say. The narrative hardly looks outside the little group of sexagenarians (those male these feminine), and even their part-time-Welshness is not laboured unduly. It all makes an original and entertaining backdrop to what the story is really about, namely how life is for this particular group at their age. To such extent as the book has a `hero' it is the prodigal literary pundit son back from England with his name changed from Alan to Alun, but even if he provides a focal point for the little caucus to come closer again, I had the impression that they had always been a fairly cohesive group, with or without Alun. Even when they get thrown out of not one pub but two, this happens to them en bloc, and presumably the thing had happened before.

Plenty of the action takes place in pubs, the amount of boozing that goes on generally had me daunted not to say plain scared, but only one person dies and there is no real hint that he died of that. Only two of the characters put the sex in sexagenarian, and that theme does not amount to a lot. The book is almost non-stop talking, the network of communication that holds the group together as a group, something one senses is vital to their existence now that not much vitality remains in their relationships as couples. Amis has an eye for the absurd and a gift for describing absurdity in an entertaining way without outright hostility. These are his own folk at least in the matter of age, he can take a look at them and see himself, and he can see the ridiculous side of the whole scene without outright cynicism.

What age you have to be to get the best value out of this book I would not be knowing. Even ten years ago I strongly suspect I would have missed some of the best things about it, but that only speaks to my own limitations. In any case, as I said already the book is extremely easy to read. Perhaps it is just a trifle too easy and too accomplished to be quite Amis's best effort. Some of his zanier productions like The Green Man or The Anti-Death League are not so evenly good as is The Old Devils, but I will happily trade some evenness for the wilder imaginative elements that I find in those. However that is a matter of going through the ritual of assessment after finally closing the book. When reading this novel I was not disturbed or even visited by thoughts of any other novel whether by Amis or by anyone. I enjoyed it thoroughly, I recommend it to my and its characters' age-bracket, and I should be surprised if it does not appeal to many younger readers, especially if they have come to appreciate this author from some of his best-sellers.

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