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The Folks That Live on the Hill Hardcover – June, 1990
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From Publishers Weekly
Another example of the new, mellower Amis, who wrote the bestselling (in Britain) The Old Devils , this is a pleasant, rambling, sometimes touching tale of Harry Caldecote, a retired library executive, and the assorted people in his life. These include Fiona, a self-destructive alcoholic related to one of his former wives; Bunty, the daughter of another, who is in an unhappy lesbian relationship; his ineffectual brother Freddie, married to a termagant; Clare, his capable but unambitious sister; and Piers, his son, a witty, elusive cadger. In his bemused way Harry worries about all of them, does his best for them and only very occasionally succeeds in bettering their lot. The character sketches are sharp, Amis's habitual misogyny is very muted, and there are even a couple of sympathetic and sophisticated Asian shopkeepers. A much kinder book than most of his work, then, but with the same sense of muddle and pitifully limited horizons we have come to associate with the Amis world. And the oddities of his style increasingly are coming to seem as carefully stylized, and classic in their way, as those of P. G. Wodehouse.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
"We're a dime breed," laments a pub keeper in Amis's new novel. "Dine out like the dinosaurs." Amis's ear for the delightful shortcuts of spoken English has never been keener, nor his sense of social comedy more perceptive. What prevents Folks from being one of his best works is the colorlessness of its protagonist, Harry Caldecote. A retired librarian described as (get this!) "soft, self-indulgent, languid, but alert against any threat of exertion," Harry is a bore. The eccentric doings of his extended family (scapegrace son, relentlessly henpecked brother, ill-assorted hangers-on by marriage) propel the novel, but Harry and his sense of guilt over his kin slow it down. For collections where Amis is popular. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/90.
- Grove Koger, Boise P.L., Id.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
The articulate and perceptive reviewer of January 2001 refers, justifiably, to "a thin and hard-to-follow plot" and remarks, again with reason, that "Harry Caldecote, the main character, is fairly well developed but the many others appear and disappear with uncomfortable regularity". But isn't this characteristic of our own lives? It's true that the elder Amis concocted some striking plots in his day ("That peculiar feeling" and the "Anti-death league" come to my mind), and that "Folks that live on the hill" has almost no plot, other than the plot that arises from the mere affections and disaffections of the characters, but how many of us live in a plot? And isn't it true that most of the characters we've known have appeared and disappeared, without much regard for how we felt about it? Isn't that life?
Kingsley Amis has always struck me as an intensely realistic writer, the best creator of character in English literature since Shakespeare, rather than a clever master of clever plots. The girl-chasing wears out after a chapter or two, and you have to be in the mood for the drinking stories. His scenes of repartee, for all their sharpness of wit, are no more realistic than the trivial rubbish on American television. Unlike the latter, however, this call-and-response is based on genuine insight into real people; they are the l'esprit de l'escalier we didn't say, even when the fools and berks and nobs who provoked them were following us down the stairwell, still carrying on. For old Amis was a humane and kind-hearted man, for all of his sarcasm, and it's hard to imagine him actually hurling all those barbs, even when the targets were as irritating as he painted them.
I find that I've written a testimonial to the late Amis rather than a review of the book at hand, but let it stand. Let the old sceptic rest in whatever peace may be out there for a man with so little belief in anything other than his annoying but nonetheless lovable fellow man.
The writing is immediately engaging, especially the dialog which moves fasts and twists sharply. Nothing is what it seems. No one is content. Everyone is getting on with their daily business while covering a deeply discordant nature. The most dramatic example of this desolate irony is when the three very adult children take a taxi to lunch with their aged mother still living nearby where they grew up. It's an awful afternoon: no wants to be there, they don't enjoy each other's company; everyone participates in the charade of a happy family gathering. The author's voice is terribly, that is, fiercely, strong in his cynical and ironic commentary on these people. It is sometimes droll but never funny. In sum, the major characters are trapped in and dependent upon the machinations of their humdrum, small everyday lives. It's delightful writing in a very tough, nearly hideous story. There are wonderful and often scathing depictions: the widow Clare and the cumbersome dog left behind by her late husband, the desperate alcoholic Fiona, the bit-on-the-side Maureen and, most memorably, the more-English-than-the-English Pakistani shopkeepers. Just when I thought the whole things was going to end disastrously, these people are all gathered in the neighborhood pub (but of course, where else?) and accept or resolve their differences while Amis's authorial voice becomes almost paternal and loving. It worked for me: I heartily enjoyed this story with its fussy weave of banal hazards and haplessness, and its finely tuned emotional climax when Harry decides not to accept a promising job in the USA because he and his sister Clare, quite simply, need each other.