1974 – “Ending Up” by Kingsley Amis

One of the things that the 60 books from 60 years challenge has allowed me to do is to try authors I had not previously read. I fully accept that I could do this any time but previously it doesn’t seem to have happened so I am using this opportunity to expand my reading life a bit. One of those authors I have never read before is Kingsley Amis who I know by name but by very little else. The book that fitted my list best was from 1974 and is called Ending Up. It is a short book and I was able to read it in one evening.

This is a story of a group of elderly people who live together, by force of circumstances, in a house in the country. They all seem to have arrived by chance or accident and most of them deeply dislike some or all of the other inhabitants. They live there because they have no other option. One is bedridden, one is bossy and organises everyone, one is permanently drunk and one spends his time thinking of ways to annoy or embarrass the others. They are all failing and they latch on to the grandchildren who visit them as they are very important in otherwise dull lives – the visitors come only from a sense of duty and mostly hate it.

The author doesn’t show old age to have any dignity or any up side. These people are bored and ineffectual and don’t matter at all in the world as a whole. They enjoy themselves by bickering and scheming against one another but these attempts mostly fail. The book climaxes with a dreadful Christmas celebration and a rather implausible ending which I actually liked and thought was rather clever, if a bit rushed.

All the reviews and synopses of this book that I have read describe it as dark and funny. It certainly is dark as the characters become more and more nasty to each other and the author displays the indignities of old age without any mitigating pleasures. Sadly, however, I didn’t find it funny at all. I thought it was a sad view of old age and that many of the characters were deeply unpleasant.

I didn’t hate this book but I didn’t love it either. It certainly hasn’t encouraged me to seek more books by this author but you probably shouldn’t judge all his output on one book.

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