Amis’ book is about the bacchanalian life and the debauchery of a film director that leads to his ultimate descent into ruination and decrepitude. The compulsive onanism/self-gratification is akin to Philip Roth’s “Portnoy’s Complaint”.
Despite the depravity of the sundry characters, the prose is lyrical and vivid. Here is the famous inclement dismal and dank London weather:
“Through these chutes of slates, you could inspect the weather, which was making a comeback of the stalled-career variety, the sun all rusty and out of condition, glowing then failing suddenly like a damp torch”.
This is his take on bees:
“Metallic, superdynamated, these creatures of the lower air moved about like complicit demons, so heavy that when they hovered they seemed to be idling from invisible threads”.
The birds are at the receiving end of smoggy weather in metropolises:
“The birds of New York shivered and croaked among the bent branches. The birds of New York have or less given up the ghost, and who can blame them? They have been processed by Manhattan and the twentieth century. A standard-issue British pigeon would look like a cockatoo among them – a robin redbreast would look like a bird of paradise. The birds of New York are old spivs in dirty macs. They live off charity and welfare handouts. They cough and grumble and flap their arms for warmth. Declassed, they have slipped several links in the chin of being; it’s been rough all right. No more songs or plump worms or flights to summer seas. The twentieth has been a bad century for the birds of New York, and they know it”.
The protagonist thinks and lives pornography:
“As I walked home through streets the colour or oyster and carbon, the air suddenly shivered and shook its coat like a wet dog, like the surface of worried water. I paused – we all did – and lifted my face to the sky……. Up in the clear distance basked a hollow pink cloud, a rosy cusp fastened by tendrils at either end, like a vertical eye, a vertical mouth. In its core lay a creaturely essence, meticulous, feminine….. I am probably not alone in supposing that I am shaped by how I see things. And the cloud up there certainly looked like a pussy to me”.
Nature being affected by modern day civilization:
“City life is happening everywhere. The wasp was dead. That sting was its last shot. Flies get dizzy spells and bees have booze problems. Robin redbreasts hit the deck with psychosomatic ulcers and cholesterol overload. In the alleys, dogs are coughing their hearts out on snout and dope. The stooped flowers in their sodden beds endure bask-pinch and rug-loss what with all the stress about. Even the microbes, the spores of the middle air are finding all this a little hard on their nerves”.
Here he talks about physical pain. I disagree somewhat, pain gets worse and assumes a pathological form as time passes
“Pain is very patient but even pain grows bored occasionally and wants to try its hand at something else. Even pain gets pissed, and craves variety. Pain doesn’t always just want to hand around hurting all the time”.