June’s meeting was on a gloriously hot day, and the lounge room of the Drayton Court made for a cool reprieve. WEN readers were decidedly not as hot under the collar as protagonist Keith, but quite cool towards ‘The Pregnant Widow’.
The story is the narcisstic account of a summer holiday at an Italian castle told by Keith’s older conscience looking back on his younger self. There was little to give the story a sense of place, however the sense of time was more relevant.
Set in 1970 at the beginning of the sexual revolution, Keith’s conscience reflected not just on himself but on 3 female characters too. Amis has said there are autobiographical elements in the character of Keith and as the female characters take very different stances within the sexual revolution these should have made for interesting characters
The new possibilities and social change of the 1970’s were explored by Amis through characters we found tedious and two dimensional. Keith, a horny English Lit student, spends his summer trying to take advantage of the sexual opportunities he sees arising for himself. This behaviour continues into adulthood with lasting destructive effect. Given the perspective of time, were we the reader to consider whether men were traumatised by the sexual liberation? We weren’t sure if this was what Amis was driving at, partly because of our disconnect with the characters and writing.
The language is unrelentingly crude, and the female characters described and defined by their physical peculiarities; the desirable two, ‘big tits’ and ‘big bum’, or the plainly not beautiful and therefore cynical. The thoughts of Keith rarely veered from sexual gratification with the result that rather than gaining insight into the character and time being lived through, the characters were unbelievable and therefore inaccessible.
As a feminist text, did it work as a discussion around the ‘equalitarian phase ‘ of the sexual revolution? With girls acting like boys, arguing that there is no difference between men and women, this was a failing in feminism which was portrayed by Amis, unfortunately using patronising language to describe the sexually active woman as a ‘cock’, that didn’t work for us either.
So, as a novel it’s readable, there is much that is interesting and we liked the novel in varying degrees. None of us connected with the characters and overall felt that we were the wrong audience for the book, but weren’t sure who would really enjoy it. Perhaps those who lived through 1970 might meet this book with a different reception…