larkin v. amis


Not liking modernism and not wanting to be taken for poncy literary types were Amis-Larkin stances too, and proudly despising Beckett, in particular, is an Amis family tradition. (Kingsley to Larkin in 1985: ‘I think it’s all to do with Mandarin vs. Vernacular was it, as Cyril C put it? You know, art novel, Pickarso, European thought, bourgeois conscience, Tuscany, Beckett, we haven’t got a television set, lesson of the master and nothing happening.’) Yet Bradford’s discipleship is less wholehearted than it first seems. Throughout his narrative of the two men’s friendship it’s clear that he prefers Larkin’s closeted artiness to Amis’s knockabout style. Sometimes, as when he writes of the young Amis being viewed as ‘almost charismatic’, apparent bitchiness turns out to be a side effect of an awkward way with words. Elsewhere he seems as appalled as any taste-shaping puritan by Amis’s boozing and shagging. And after a while it’s hard not to feel for his subjects as he wrenches their every exchange into a pattern of one-way envy and obsession. When Larkin tells Monica that a letter from Amis ‘makes me laugh’, Bradford glosses: ‘No doubt it did but it stirred other feelings too.’ That these feelings, in this instance, weren’t mentioned only shows how deep they ran.

more from Christopher Tayler at the LRB here.