Girl, 20

Kingsley Amis (Author) Howard Jacobson (Introduction by)


Kingsley Amis, along with being the funniest English writer of his generation was a great chronicler of the fads and absurdities of his age, and Girl, 20 is a delightfully incisive dissection of the flower-power phase of the 1960s. Amis's antihero, Sir Roy Vandervane, a conductor and composer who bears more than a passing resemblance to Leonard Bernstein, is a pillar of the establishment whohas fallen hard for protest, bellbottoms, and the electric guitar. And since vain Sir Vandervane is a great success, he is also free to pursue his greatest failing: a taste for younger and younger women. Highborn hippie Sylvia (not, in fact, twenty) is his latest infatuation and a threat to his whole family, from his drama-queen wife, Kitty, to Penny, his long-suffering daughter.

All this is recounted by Douglas Yandell, a music critic with his own love problems, who finds that he too has a part in this story of botched artistry, bumbling celebrity, and scheming family, in a time that for all its high-minded talk is as low and dishonest as any other.

Product Details

New York Review of Books
Publish Date
September 17, 2013
5.0 X 0.6 X 8.0 inches | 0.52 pounds
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About the Author

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.

Howard Jacobson is the author of eleven novels, among them Kalooki Nights and the Booker Prize-winning The Finkler Question. He writes a weekly column about culture for The Independent and has published several works of nonfiction, including Roots Schmoots and Seriously Funny.


"As always, Amis's aim at the modern world, not to mention eternal human foibles, is dead on." --Los Angeles Times

"After the early splash with Lucky Jim, Kingsley's books got better and better, until a peak in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when he published The Green Man; Girl, 20 (my favorite); and Ending Up." --Geoffrey Wheatcroft, The Atlantic Monthly

"In Girl, 20 the character of whom Amis most disapproves politically is also made irresistibly charming, while--this is a really brilliant knight's move--the activity on which Amis himself had expended the most time (adultery) is shown by the actions of this very charmer as destructive to all parties."--Christopher Hitchens

"For satiric ends the cast of characters has been adroitly shaped to expose a sort of folie à deux in which youth and an aging misleader of youth contribute equally to the mischief." --The New York Times

"I never found Lucky Jim--which launched Kingsley Amis--all that funny, but Girl, 20 is. It's one of those deft comedies the British seem to specialize in--a story that makes us laugh without being outrageous, manic, obscene, anti-patriotic or ethnic. It satirizes society without trying to bring it crashing down around our ears. It does not smear the Absurd like catchup on everything in sight. There is no gimmicky situation to set you thinking of Alan Arkin or Woody Allen. Its effects are derived mostly from its characters, who are all recognizable contemporary types. Their actions are funny not because they are inconsistent--the famous non sequitur syndrome invented by American wits--but because they are not, because these people keep plugging away, with varying degrees of ingenuity and success, at the peculiar, but not unusual stratagems for getting what they want.... Sir Roy is a first-class character, possibly Amis's best." --Anatole Broyard, The New York Times

"In his rollicking novel about the absurdities of the Sixties, Girl, 20, Kingsley Amis created a character who responded to each outbreak of pseudery with a phrase that he loathed. 'School of Thought!' he would exclaim; or 'Christian Gentleman!' " --The Daily Telegraph

"In this book Sir Roy Vandervane at 54 embodies the best of the past, in that he is a talented symphonic conductor, good violinist, knowledgeable composer. He is also selling out to the future and the present, as represented by his long hair, his rich man's radical chic, permissiveness, with-it views on everything including rock music, and above all a bird named Sylvia who is just one-third as old as Roy.... This precocious little horror is a successful creature, one of those arrogant bullies of spontaneity who will imply that you are fascist if you make unhip remarks like 'what time is it' or 'where are we going?' Amis scores such precise hints as having Sir Roy guess wrong 'about what Sylvia would like to do, ' itself such a substantial proportion of her total outlook upon the world." --Robert Pinsky, Los Angeles Times

"His novels of the late 1960s and early 1970s, which was in many ways his most confident and interesting period, include two powerfully expressive, minatory masterpieces in Ending Up and Girl, 20." --Philip Hensher, The Spectator