NB: A Friday Forgotten Book.
The final signed edition I have to show you (for the moment; I do have other signed books waiting patiently in the bookcases) also begins a run of posts on its author:
The Anti-Death League, by Kingsley Amis, originally published in hardback by Victor Gollancz in 1966 under an evocative dust jacket designed by the great Raymond Hawkey. This isn't that edition, however – at least, not quite. It's the second impression from 1972, which I spotted in Lewes's Bow Windows Bookshop last year and couldn't resist – even though I already own a first edition – because each copy was signed by Amis for members of the New Fiction Society:
Although given that this edition came along six years after the first edition, it would have been a slight contradiction in terms to call it "new". Mind you, I've no idea how apposite the New Fiction Society's name was/is: after much fruitless googling I've been unable to determine who or what they were/are (I even resorted to posing the question on Twitter, to a deafening silence). If anyone can shed any light on this mysterious Society, do please leave a comment.
UPDATE: Fellow fan of The Anti-Death League Philip Gooden emailed me shortly after I posted this with the following insight:
"The NFS was a kind of upmarket book club that flourished briefly in the
mid-70s. Since its aim was to encourage more serious fiction – or at
least something between popular and highbrow – it may even have had some
Arts Council support. My memory's a bit hazy but I don't think you had
to commit to buying a set number of books and they were sold at only a
small discount to the published price (in pre-discounting days). The
jackets were just the same, with the addition of the NFS sticker on the
spine. Perhaps you could get signed copies by paying more.
"The only two I have are Martin Amis's Success (1978) and Robert Nye's
Falstaff (1976). I don't think the society was going in the early 70s so
suspect that your copy of The Anti-Death League was retrospectively
branded by them. Delighted to find someone else who thinks that it's K. Amis's best book."
And I'm delighted to be able to post this information. Thank you, Philip!
The Anti-Death League was Kingsley Amis's seventh published novel – including 1965's The Egyptologists, co-written with Robert Conquest – and marked the beginning of his (solo) experiments with genre, in this case spy fiction with a dash of science fiction... kind of; there's actually a lot more to the novel than that would suggest, the military espionage trappings merely a backdrop to a highly eventful extended meditation on the nature of life, love, death, friendship, God (who also receives a good kicking in another Amis genre experiment, 1969's The Green Man) and sexuality. It's the one book I would recommend to anyone who reckons they have Amis père pegged: a surprisingly warm novel which stands in marked contrast to the cantankerous likes of, say, Ending Up (1974) – which, incidentally, after The Anti-Death League is my second favourite Amis (of those that I've read).
Speaking of Robert Conquest, as I briefly was above, he'll be popping up in the next post, in which I'll be examining two books he and Kingsley Amis produced in collaboration...