I read The Anti-Death League for three reasons. First, Kinglsey Amis is a favorite of mine (I have a penchant for Mid-Century, dipsomaniacal, British authors). His big hit, Lucky Jim, has been a personal favorite ever since I read it in college and I thoroughly enjoyed his Booker-winning The Old Devils. I plan to read his complete bibliography.
Second, The Anti-Death League made it to Anthony Burgess's list of his favorite 99 novels. Burgess has steered me to a couple of winners in the past, so I trusted him on this one. And, given my completist tendencies for book lists, I plan to read all 99 of Burgess's picks.
Finally, this book was published in 1966, so counts as one of my choices (perhaps the only one this year) for Hotchpot Cafe's Birth Year Reading Challenge.
For these reasons, I was triply disappointed. It's not that it is a bad book. As a parody of a British army novel, it is pitch perfect, positing a spy ring looking to discovery a new secret weapon in Cold War Britain on the brink of war with Korea. There are several set pieces – the first visit to the nymphomaniac widow's mansion and the lunch party at the lunatic asylum, for instance – that are very good.
As entertaining, even compelling, as individual scenes might be, none of it held together for me. The overarching theme is anger at a belligerent God who allows – perpetrates – senseless death (prompting the formation of the titled Anti-Death League and leading to a particularly bitter ending). But Amis divides the story among so many characters suffering from so many things – grief, cancer, romantic rejection, loneliness, loss of faith, fear, addiction, insanity, and more – that it is hard to get an emotional toe-hold.
Burgess concluded that the book may be "[t]heologically unsound" but "is nevertheless a noble cry from the heart on behalf of human suffering." It may be, but because it failed to engage me on an emotional level, it failed to engage me at all.
My review of One Fat Englishman is here.
My review of Everyday Drinking: The Distilled Kingsley Amis is here.
If you would like your review of this or any other Kingsley Amis book listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.