With Lucky Jim Kingsley Amis established himself as the bad boy of twentieth-century British letters. Later he became famous as another kind of bad boy, an inveterate boozer, a red-faced scourge of political correctness. He was consistent throughout in being a committed enemy of any form of “right thinking,” which helped to make him one of the most consistently unconventional and exploratory writers of his day, a master of classical English prose who was unafraid to apply himself to literary genres all too often dismissed as “low.” Science fiction, the spy story, the ghost story were all grist for Amis’s mill, and nowhere is the experimental spirit in which he worked, his will to test both reality and the reader’s imagination, more apparent than in his short stories. These “woodchips from [his] workshop”—as he called them—are anything but throwaway work. They are instead the essence of Amis, a brew that is as tonic as it is intoxicating.
Kingsley Amis (1922–1995) was a popular and prolific British novelist, poet, and critic, widely regarded as one of the greatest satirical writers of the twentieth century. Born in suburban South London, the only child of a clerk in the office of the mustard-maker Colman’s, he went to the City of London School on the Thames before winning an English scholarship to St. John’s College, Oxford, where he began a lifelong friendship with fellow student Philip Larkin. Following service in the British Army’s Royal Corps of Signals during World War II, he completed his degree and joined the faculty at the University College of Swansea in Wales. Lucky Jim, his first novel, appeared in 1954 to great acclaim and won a Somerset Maugham Award. Amis spent a year as a visiting fellow in the creative writing department of Princeton University and in 1961 became a fellow at Peterhouse College, Cambridge, but resigned the position two years later, lamenting the incompatibility of writing and teaching (“I found myself fit for nothing much more exacting than playing the gramophone after three supervisions a day”). Ultimately he published twenty-four novels, including science fiction and a James Bond sequel; more than a dozen collections of poetry, short stories, and literary criticism; restaurant reviews and three books about drinking; political pamphlets and a memoir; and more. Amis received the Booker Prize for his novel The Old Devils in 1986 and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1990. He had three children, among them the novelist Martin Amis, with his first wife, Hilary Anne Bardwell, from whom he was divorced in 1965. After his second, eighteen-year marriage to the novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard ended in 1983, he lived in a London house with his first wife and her third husband.
Rachel Cusk is the author of two memoirs and seven novels, including The Country Life, The Lucky Ones, and Arlington Park. Her most recent novel, Outline, was published in 2015.