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The Old Devils Hardcover – Jun 1 1994

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 17 reviews
31 of 39 people found the following review helpful
rare is the book March 4 1999
By A Customer - Published on
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
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
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 balance of action is wrong July 16 2011
By Thoughtful reader - Published on
Format: Paperback
I was attracted to this novel by the name of the author and the mention on the front cover of the Booker Prize.

However, it took an effort of will to stay with the novel all the way through to the end. This was because the balance of action seems wrong, with 80 percent of the book building up to the critical event that speeds along the rest of the novel. I would have preferred to see the critical event arrive after about 60 percent of the novel. As it is, it demands a lot of patience to wait for the "other shoe to drop." After finishing the book, I had to re-read the first chapter in order to track down the small clues that explain much of the action in the closing part of the novel which ends with a predictable denouement.

On the positive side, I liked the very under-stated irony of Welsh / British humor that is unique and sorely missed by expatriates. The many aspersions cast on the Welsh character are very funny. These were new to me as an English person with no prior knowledge of Wales beyond a one-day visit to Anglesey!

I also was moved by the quiet desperation of older people who have retired, lost their purpose in life, and grown weary of marital routine and fragile friendships. After finishing the novel, I was struck by the misery that underlies so much of middle-class life.... Probably it is this searing look into old age and its loneliness that won Amis the Prize. Certainly I can't bring to mind any other work that deals with these topics and this type of older population.
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
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.

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