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The Morning After

January 24, 2013 | by Faber Social

Tags: Events, Kingsley Amis, The Social

On Tuesday the 29th, the Faber Social is all about Beer – a celebration of booze and booziness after the long, cold weeks of what has for many been an abstemious January. To say I am looking forward to it is an understatement.

But what about the morning of the 30th?

As surely as night follows day, an evening determinedly in your cups is certain to be succeeded by a hangover. The headache. The parched mouth. Tiredness. Nausea, even – especially nasty on the Tube. The motiveless sense of dread and not unreasonable conviction that you made an arse of yourself at some point.

Given how fond we Britons are of sinking a few, you’d think that hangovers would feature more heavily in our written works. (Although it is with a misplaced sense of pride that I note the first Google result for ‘hangovers in literature’ brings up this article from the Huffington Post, in which two of the eight best literary ‘drinking benders and hangovers’ are Faber’s.) One man makes up for this relative paucity, in both volume and descriptive inventiveness. The universally acknowledged laureate of drinkers, Kingsley Amis has done more than any other writer to chronicle the pleasure and attendant pain of having one over the eight.

In words as in measures, Amis was prolific, writing twenty novels, six volumes of poetry, and various volumes of non-fiction including the alarmingly titled Everyday Drinking, a book that could not be more of its time if it were to drive home, leathered.

In what many regard as his two best novels, drink plays a central character: Lucky Jim (1954) and The Old Devils (1986). The former, Amis’s debut, describes the hapless Jim Dixon, a junior academic navigating the torrid personal and political rapids of a provincial university though a combination of gurning, drunkenness and rationed cigarettes. Throughout, Dixon’s preposterous head of department, Professor Welch, has his bag set off in quote marks – his ‘bag’. Why? We’re never told, but I am laughing as I type this.

The Old Devils is a much more bittersweet affair. Minor poet and ‘professional Welshman’ Alun (né Alan) Weaver and his wife Rhiannon return to Wales and their old circle of friends. A stringent routine of drinking, peppered with infidelity, ensues until Alun unexpectedly but perhaps not unsurprisingly drops dead, shocking the group into reflection. It is a hilarious novel and a tender novel. Unless you happen to be Welsh. And it is possibly Amis’s best, going on to win the Booker.

So, on the bitter morning of the 30th, what would Kingsley Amis do? Fortunately, we’ve no need to speculate, since he prescribed how to deal with a hangover, physical and metaphysical, in some detail here. Cheers!