Most helpful positive review
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
A nice title
on May 6, 2001
The title is of course nice, in the sense of precise, referring to the way a counsellor might euphemistically refer to Jake's "problem", his impotence, also to Jake's penis, and also perhaps to Jake's attitude.
This was the first of the trilogy of Amis Pere's trilogy of deeply angry, anti-humanist and misogynist novels (the others being _Stanley and the Women_ and _Russian Hide and Seek_), and perhaps the funniest. The objects of Amis' satire (trendy doctors and counsellors, the "helping professions" in general) surely deserve the contempt Amis heaps on them, though the satire sometimes spills over into what seems like genuinely felt and personal rage, not quite mediated or controlled by the authorial "voice". But the various appalling and undignified therapies to which Jake is subjected in the attempt to restore his libido are evoked with comic splendour and I suspect bulls-eye accuracy. Jake's mind, body and intelligence are in every sense insulted.
Along with _Girl, 20_, with its evocation of 1960s "swinging London" this is the most obviously dated of Amis' novels, though perhaps that doesn't matter much from this distance. What was once trendy (or rather anti-trendy in relation to specific forms of trendiness, which is essentially the same thing) becomes dated, and finally comfortably historical.
Though possibly one of the least of Kingsley Amis' novels, and one that shows the man himself at a low ebb (a certain humanism returns with _The Old Devils_ and the last novels, and Amis is much the better for that), this is still a comic masterpiece. No writer has ever done dialogue, and especially dialogue-as-strategy, talk as point-scoring and jockeying-for-position, as well as Amis. Below-par Amis still offers a much better read than most novelists at their peak.