24 I CHRONICLESnsame strain to a radio interviewer onnthe station: “… Heart is where thenhome is, and the heart of a Welshmann…” Where did this kind of talk,nwhich another character calls “pissartistry,”noriginate? It makes very littlensense: To call Wales “land of river andnhill,” as Alun does, is not to differentiatenit sharply from any other place.nThe Scots in Boswell’s Life of Johnsonnhave a touch of it, but its developmentninto a universal habit is more recent.nPublicists and advertisers may earnnlarge sums for it, but they did notninvent it. Writers must have done that.nThis is why the focus of Amis’ntheme is the life and work of fictionalnWelsh poet Brydan (1913-60), whonlived at the end of his life in Birdarthur,na small Welsh seaside town, nownthe center of a fair-sized culture andntourist industry. Brydan’s best knownnwork is something called Tales Fromnthe Undergrowth, based on local charactersnwhom he treated, according tonCharlie Norris, a retired alcoholic caterer,nas “quaint objects in a souvenirnshop.” He also had a passion for JacknDaniel’s Tennessee Whiskey, notnmentioned in the official literature,nbut apparently no great secret. Put thendetails together, and thoughts of DylannThomas are inevitable. AlthoughnAmis denies referring to real peoplenand places, no one who knows thenbroad outline of Thomas’ life. UndernMilk Wood, and the countrysidenaround Swansea and the Gower peninsulanwill really believe him. In fact,nmost of the novel’s best comedy emanatesnfrom the running mockery of thenThomas legend. There is an unveilingnof a £98,000 monument to Brydan atnthe deconsecrated church of St. Dogmael’sn(“Well, it hasn’t got any holesnin it”) that, for old Amis readers, willnbring back memories of Jim Dixon’snsufferings at his professor’s madrigalnparties. The novel’s climax, too, happensnin Birdarthur, brought on byncon crsations at Brydan’s grave and innhis old pub.nAmis has always been as much ansatirist as a novelist. Probably moreninterested in the object of attack thannin the aesthetics of the novel, he leavesnthe form pretty much as he found it.nHis favorite objects are pretension andnhypocrisy, and he has a mimic’s ear fornthe sounds they make. In Lucky ]im,nBertrand Welsh, snob and bully, in­nfuriated Jim Dixon by saying “younsam” and “hostelram” instead of “younsee” and “hostelry,” while in I Want ItnNow, there is a Southerner whose “Incan’t stand it” comes out as “Arcanenstandard.” In The Old Devils, Amisnhas picked up the habit of a certainnkind of Welshman who, unable tonspeak Welsh, sprinkles his speech withna few common words to give the impressionnhe can. Alun, “the secondratenbloody ersatz Brydan,” as TarenJones, landlord of The Bible pub callsnhim, does this, especially when talkingnto his wife, to whom he lies a lot. Thisnis a sign that Alun’s otherwise ratherngenial charlatanism is really offensive.nHe can be trusted in nothing. At thenbook’s end, when Peter Thomas’ sonnrather carelessly condemns Alun, andnPeter says, “I suppose so. The longer Ingo on the harder it gets to say thatnabout anybody. … Of course he didnleave a certain amount to be desired innthe way of friendship, Alun,” Peter’snmeasured charity condemns more severely.nFor despite all the knockabout funn(“They went outside and stood where ansign used to say Taxi and now saidnTaxi/Tacsi for the benefit of Welshnpeople who had never seen a letter Xnbefore”), this is a serious, sometimesnrather harrowing book about agingnpeople caught in a set of lies that havenshaped their lives. As is often thenpattern in an Amis novel, the youngnpeople escape to a different life, butnthe old have to put up with the peoplenthey have become. Amis’ attack onnethnic and national sentimentality as anreal moral killer seems to be perfectlynserious.nIt would surely be a mistake, however,nto think that this is an anti-Welshnbook or that the thing it attacks isnpeculiar to Wales. Because Amis reallynknows and likes Wales he can diagnosenthe disease in its Welsh form veryneffectively, the implication being thatnno country and few institutions arenfree from it. Like the alcohol drunk innsuch extraordinary quantities in hisnbook, a little ethnic and nationalnpride, Amis says, seems at first to donnothing but good, enhancing selfesteemnand so forth—but only, saysnAmis, by suppressing reason and commonnsense. Taken in large doses, it cannbe fatal.nThe Old Devils has an interestingnnnsub- or counter-theme, too. Americannreaders with a taste for satire will enjoynthe guying of the Thomas legend, butnif they pick up the metaphorical tendencynof the story, they will noticensomething else: If nationalism is likenalcohol, then like alcohol it is a substitutenfor something else — and thatnsomething else is religion. Amis oncenwrote an essay about the shortcomingsnof the modern church; one does notnhave to be particularly religious tondetect the church’s failures of faith,nintelligence, taste, and morality, andnto expect ensuing severe social consequences.nIn this novel, besides thenchurch of St. Dogmael’s, deconsecratedninto an art center, there is St.nPaul’s, turned into a sex cinema, repletenwith the memories of its lastnvicar, the fornicating Joe Craddock.nThe clearest delineation of a standardnunderlying Amis’ satire, however, is andescription, certainly evocative, of thenlocked-up, deserted little church of St.nMary, occupying a remote promontory,nand last used in 1959:n”It’s still a church,” saidnMalcolm, having let the matternrest for quite a long time.n”That’s to say it hasn’t beenndeconsecrated. … At thenmoment it’s too far for anybodynto come, you see. Too far byncar, that is. How many yearsnwould it be since it wasn’t toonfar to come on foot, with thatnclimb for most of them to facenafter? Eighty-four inncongregation the nave held,naccording to what I read.”nToo far, indeed. Yet even if deconsecrationnis the only thing the modernnchurch does with conviction, peoplenhave a way of taking things into theirnown hands. At the end of the book,nCharlie Norris, whose fear and alcoholismnseem proportionate to his effortsnat truth-telling, sings again at thenwedding of his friends’ children. At thensame ceremony, Peter Thomas takesnthe first steps toward putting what isnleft of his life in order. It would benhard to say whether Amis intends thesenvery small, personal victories to have anreligious overtone to them. Nonetheless,ngiven the religious theme runningnthrough the book, even the titie acquiresnanother dimension.n