Wednesday 30 August 2023

Rose-tinted memories, mis-remembered by some, forgotten by others

The Old Devils A few years ago a university friend attempted to reunite our old gang. The response was somewhat unenthusiastic. Rose-tinted memories resurfaced, mis-remembered by some, forgotten by others. Thank goodness it didn't go ahead, unlike the reunion of The Old Devils in Kingsley Amis's novel.

The book begins with the news that Rhiannon and Alun Weaver have decided to retire to Wales, where their old chums live. Gwen Cellan-Davies, remarks ominously to her husband Malcom, "You know, I don't think that news about the Weavers is good news for anyone." I had to agree.

Many reviewers find the story humorous, but on reaching the end you may consider the satire to be often cruel, sometimes overdone, even tragic. Wales and Welsh culture often bear the brunt, as when Rhiannon and Alun arrive in South Wales by train. They "went outside and stood where a sign used to say Taxi and now said Taxi/Tacsi for the benefit of Welsh people who had never seen a letter X before." There's a lot of dislike for fictional poet Brydon (supposedly based on Dylan Thomas who was a particular bugbear for Amis). After a time this became tediously repetitive.

You have to laugh about some things tho', especially if, like the characters, you've reached the age of 60. Certain problems begin to manifest themselves, and life is best borne by chuckling at them. Malcolm's daily ritual of going to the loo for instance, when success is a "signal for him to sit to attention and snap a salute". As for Peter, we discover he prefers to cut his toe nails in the garden, where "he could let the parings fly free, and fly they bloody well did, especially the ones that came crunching off his big toes, which were massive enough and moved fast enough to have brought down a sparrow on the wing..." Both these descriptions made me smile.

For this reader tho' the portrayal of excessive drinking and alcoholism was depressing rather than funny. The majority of the senior characters have no other interests than spending most nights in the pub downing beer and spirits (men), or at a friend's house polishing off a few bottles of wine (women).

There's a happy ending of sorts, but I've enjoyed other humorous books much more. For loveable characters I preferred Three Men in a Boat's laugh-out-loud antics, and Good Behaviour's complicated yet funny older woman was more intriguing. Still, if you're a middle-class Brit who's nearing retirement age you might read the book as a cautionary tale.

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