I read Kingsley Amis’ Jake’s Thing because I was intrigued by the novel’s concept of an aging academic worrying about his declining libido to the extent of consulting professional sex therapists and joining workshops. I was also taken in by Amis’ first line: ‘When did you first notice something was wrong?’
In any case, I found the thought of getting into what old Caucasians did before Viagra came into vogue interesting.
But apart from a few inspired moments, much of the book turned out to be quite a bore. The insightful and slow-paced meandering over the academe, everyday life, marriage issues, sex problems could have been put to good use by a better storyline and more biting satire.
Yes, the book was nominated for the Booker Prize but I still can’t understand why the people at Vintage included this in their list of Classics except perhaps as a marketing ploy. I haven’t read any other Kingsley Amis novel but I’m sure others would agree that this certainly isn’t one of his best.
I didn’t enjoy Jake’s Thing as a whole but I can’t deny being entertained by some parts. One of my favorite passages comes later in the book. Here, Amis affirms the analysis of how the decline of traditional bourgeois society as psychoanalyzed by Freud and the rise of so-called permissiveness is itself generating new guilts and anxieties by transforming pleasure into duty:
[L]et me remind you of something you said to me in that terrible pub, something about repressive attitudes making me feel unrelaxed. Repressive? In 1977? I was doing fine when things really were repressive, if they ever were, it’s only since they’ve become, oh, permissive that I’ve had trouble. In the old days a lot of people, men as well as women, didn’t know what to expect of sex so they didn’t worry when it didn’t work too well. Now everybody knows exactly what’s required of them and exactly how much they’ve fallen short down to the last millimeter and second and drop, which is frightfully relaxing for them. No wonder you boys have got enough trade. (249-250)
As Slavoj Žižek said, “Subjects experience the need to ‘have a good time’, to enjoy themselves, as a kind of duty, and, consequently, feel guilty for failing to be happy.” By the novel’s ending, Jake’s futile search for a sexual elixir turns into misogynist ranting. Asked by his doctor whether he would like a new treatment,
Jake did a quick run-through of women in his mind, not of the ones he had known or dealt with in the past few months or years so much as all of them: their concern with the surface of things, with objects and appearances, with their surroundings and how they looked and sounded in them, with seeming to be better and to be right while getting everything wrong, their automatic assumption of the role of injured party in any clash of wills, their certainty that a view is the more credible and useful for the fact that they hold it, their use of misunderstanding and misrepresentation as weapons of debate, their selective sensitivity to tones of voice, their unawareness of the difference in themselves between sincerity and insincerity, their interest in importance (together with noticeable inability to discriminate in that sphere), their fondness for general conversation and directionless discussion, their pre-emption of the major share of feeling, their exaggerated estimate of their own plausibility, their never listening and lots of other things like that, all according to him.
So it was quite easy. ‘No thanks,’ he said. (269) ■