Monday, 8 August 2016

The Folks That Live on the Hill by Kingsley Amis–Part 2


published 1990



 
Folks Popsy 1In the post office he picked up more or less at random a small packet of airmail envelopes and made for the counter. Here he found he was standing next to a kind of elderly small boy dressed like a conscript in some half-starved oriental army. When an unsmiling glance of recognition had come his way he identified this person as the dreaded Popsy, girl-friend of Bunty, his niece by marriage. She seemed to be daring him to speak.


 
Popsy appeared in her turn, soonFolks Popsy 2 enough to effect briefly the larger illusion that the two might have been hob-nobbing at the bar for the last couple of minutes. She was wearing an ungathered greyish dress suitable for a stage production designed to suggest some unlocated limbo about the time of the Dark Ages. Taking from his unresisting hand the glass Harry had been carrying, she said, ‘Ah, a Campari soda if I mistake not – a sadly underrated concoction,’ and drank the top half of its contents in a single swallow.







commentary: We found in the last entry on this book that nice girls wear corduroy (and I have since found a picture of an actual nice-girl corduroy skirt that I owned in the era – though that’s not me in the photograph.)
 
Folks 2 corduroy

Popsy is most certainly a very nasty young woman, and so her clothes are quite other than corduroy skirts.

And then there’s Piers in folks suit 3
a suit of morello-coloured flannel, cut perhaps by the best man in Rio de Janeiro – striding forward with splayed hand…
Amis always has an eye for the details as shown in his clothes descriptions. And an ear, too – the conversations are very good.

There is an absolutely extraordinary scene where Harry tries to explain to Bunty’s husband how a Lesbian might feel, act and react, using schoolboy friendships as a metaphor. It’s extremely hard to work out what exactly he is saying, what the point is of this, and after a certain amount of thinking about the scene, I thought ‘don’t go there’.


There’s a dog called Towser -  a word that the blog has followed from Joyce’s Ulysses to Lucky Jim and further:

In a line of the utmost poetry, Joyce says:


And with that he took the bloody old towser by the scruff of the neck and, by Jesus, he near throttled him.
 This has its similarities with a line from Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim:


The bloody old towser-faced boot-faced totem-pole on a crap reservation, Dixon thought.
If you look it up at Merriam-Webster online, you find towser defined as a large dog or a large rough person -- and one happy reader adds to the Ulysses citation by saying ‘in 101 Dalmatians (the cartoon version), the old gentleman wonders why no one names their dogs Towser anymore.’

There is a Sgt Towser in Joseph Heller’s Catch-22.
I do love a bit of (loosely-defined) research on the blog.

The covers of modern editions  of The Folks That Live on The Hill feature a very strange description of the book:
Harry Caldecote is the most charming man you'll ever meet, a convivial academic who devotes his life to others. He is on call when his alcoholic niece falls into strange hands, when his brother threatens to emulate Wordsworth, when his son's lesbian lodger is beaten up by her girlfriend. He endures misplaced seductions, swindles and aggressive dogs just to keep the peace at the King's pub in Shepherd's Hill.
(the next line is a pointless spoiler).

This is one of the worst descriptions of the book that I could imagine. The first line is complete rubbish: he is not charming to the reader (the only person in the book who considers him charming is the out-and-out vile Desiree, who is in the next line going to say he is completely ruthless). He is casually kind, but most certainly does not devote his life to others. He is not an academic.

Two of the three events in the next line are misdescribed, and by no stretch of the imagination is Harry ‘on call’. The third sentence is again complete rubbish. The paragraph would lead you to expect a quite different type of book.

So – ignore the description, enjoy the book.

All the pictures are from fashion magazines from the book’s era. I think I have been generous to Popsy in the outfits I have given her.

















24 comments:

  1. That's the thing about descriptions, isn't it, Moira? It's really annoying when they're completely wrong and even misleading. And that's not to mention the whole spoiler thing... That said, though, I'm glad you followed up and did more on this one. It does sound like a good read.

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    1. I can get so cross about those blurbs! It seems to happen such a lot - do the writers not actually read the book? This happens from very respectable publishers too.

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  2. Moira, that's not a convincing description, I agree. I think it'd throw me off the book. It's also interesting that it was published five years after Amis passed away.

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    1. It's annoying and I cannot understand how it happens.

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    2. Moira, my apologies. What I meant was that the book was published five years "before" Amis died.

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    3. No worries Prashant, I knew what you meant!

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  3. And a pass from me too I'm afraid, even though I once possessed not one, but two, corduroy suits (they were very popular in the 1970s),

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    1. If I have made you remember your corduroy suit then that is enough. They were smart and fashionable - I went to Ascot in a rust-coloured cord jacket over heavy cream linen, and I think I looked pretty good....

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  4. Oh my! I just remembered that I had a corduroy suit in the 1970's and I was a thoroughly nice girl, if only because I wasn't pretty enough to be anything else. I also sewed my own mossy green corduroy skirt that I adored. Also, Towser just bumped Jasper and Basil off the top of my list of favorite dog names.

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    1. We all looked lovely in our corduroy! And hes, I will NEVER have a dog, but if I did I would call it Towser.

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  5. Now you have spoiled it for me. Not really, I skipped right over that. I am programmed...

    Well you do have me curious, but it will have to wait a while.

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    1. Honestly, that description is so off it doesn't spoiler! But you may never get to it anyway...

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  6. You've reminded me that I had a lovely burgundy corduroy suit. It had a long flared jacket with a mandarin collar. And I was certainly a nice girl.
    I think I have discovered where our tastes diverge, Moira, as I really do not like Kingsley Amis. Doubt if I will ever read (or reread) one of his novels again.

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    1. I like the sound of that jacket. I don't blame you at all for your reaction, but I can manage to give him the benefit of the doubt for the bad attitudes to enjoy other aspects. We each draw our own line...

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  7. Oh and yes, you do feel some blurbs can't have been written by anyone who had actually read the book. Infuriating!

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    1. It's one of the things that puzzles me about publishers - they do such a number about how professional they are, and how much they love books, and how it is so difficult to get into - only the best get jobs. But the standard of editing is appalling, and the peripherals like blurbs are so often slapdash and shoddy. How hard is it? What are they DOING?

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    2. They always used to pay very badly. ;-) What you get for your hard work and tiny pay is a job title that will impress people at parties. I'm not sure I want to go to those parties. I remember one where everyone was positively repelled by the fact that I worked in... magazines!!!!

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    3. Yes, they were handmaids of the arts weren't they? Doing it for love, but preferably with an allowance from parents. But it is that intellectual superiority that annoys, when they're not doing their job that well....

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  8. When I started as a lowly editor at Pan Macmillan, I was handed the job of writing blurbs for several about-to-be-reprinted books. When I protested that I couldn't write a blurb for a book I hadn't read, I was frostily advised to acquire that faculty forthwith!

    In the case of the Amis, I suspect it was the result of the blurbist misunderstanding descriptions or earlier blurbs he/she had read, or picking up the wrong clues from glossing the early chapters. Either way the blurbist clearly cannot have read the book properly, nor would the publisher have expected it. There are just too many books and too little time. As a result, and as several of your commentators point out, these kinds of misleading descriptions occur all too often. This one is an exceptionally fine example of the form!

    By the way, great blog, which I've only just discovered (mea culpa). I'll be spending lots of time here, I can see...

    Rupert Heath
    www.deanstreetpress.co.uk

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    1. Thanks - that was really interesting and informative. I suppose I did assume that people who worked in publishing DID read the books...
      So glad you like the blog, and look forward to hearing from you more.

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    2. I recall Stephen Fry saying in an interview that he obtained his degree, in part, from writing an essay about a book he had never read. There is also a joke in academic circles: 'Read it? I haven't even taught it yet'.

      That said, I think a key distinction needs to be drawn between the original editors of books (who I think DO read the works of their authors) and the subsequent underlings (like I was at the time) who are delegated the job of sprucing up reprints with new blurbs. I may be wrong, but I would guess the first edition of THE FOLKS THAT LIVE ON THE HILL sports a much more authentic description, probably written by the primary editor him- or herself.

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    3. Yes a good point. Such a shame though - so many booklovers around, you'd think someone would take blurb-writing seriously...

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