Girl, 20, Paperback Book
3 out of 5 (2 ratings)


Douglas Yandell, a young-ish music critic, is enlisted by Kitty Vandervane to keep an eye on her roving husband - the eminent conductor and would-be radical Sir Roy - as he embarks on yet another affair.

Roy, meanwhile, wants Douglas as an alibi for his growing involvement with Sylvia, an unsuitably young woman who loves nothing more than to shock and provoke.

Life soon becomes extremely complicated as Douglas finds himself caught up in a frantic, farcical tangle of relationships, rivalry and scandal.Girl, 20 is a merciless send-up of 1970s London's permissive society from a master of uproarious comedy.


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I wanted to read a novel from the 1960s, or <i>of</i> the 1960s, instead of modern stories set in that decade, and in that sense, I enjoyed <i>Girl, 20</i>. However, I doubt I would read Amis' novel again. I can't put my finger on what was wrong - not the narration, because the acerbic writing is amusing, and not the lack of likeable characters or a happy ending, because I wasn't expecting either, but for a brief book (just over two hundred pages), I spent nearly a week trying to finish the thing.Douglas Yandell (that's Yandell, not Randall), is a music critic whose best friend, the famous composer Sir Roy Vandervane, is going through the mother of all mid-life crises. After a series of affairs with younger women, Sir Roy becomes fixated on the girl of the title (although the obnoxious Sylvia is actually 17) and decides to leave his highly-strung wife, troubled daughter and bratty son for her. Douglas is caught in the middle, trying to be a friend to both Roy and Kitty Vandervane, while lusting after daughter Penny and sharing part-time girlfriend Vivienne with another man. All very permissive, wryly humorous and dated, interspersed with middle-class culture. Perhaps that's why I struggled with Kingsley Amis - he's merely a coarser version of Barbara Pym, and I can't stand her books either.I did enjoy the narration, if not the narrator, and actually quite agreed with a lot of Amis' criticism of 1960s liberal culture (especially children left to run wild, and 'youth' conforming to non-conformity), but a lot of the social, political and musical references left me behind. Roy disgusted me, no doubt intentionally, Penny and Sylvia made me wonder what Roy and Douglas could find attractive in them, and I would personally have liked to reach into the novel, drag Ashley out by his ear and beat him (and all spoiled children) with a cricket bat, but Douglas was entertaining at least.Interesting, amusing, but far from endearing. I think I'll try <i>Georgy Girl</i> next, for the female 1960s perspective!

Review by

Roy Vandervane, a competent musician, and a great popular success, strains his family by indulging himself with a love affair with a much younger woman. An example of high ideals and low practices written with great skill. So funny, so tragic!

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