Friday 25 January 2013

The Anti-Death League by Kingsley Amis (Gollancz, 1966): New Fiction Society Signed Edition, 1972; Uncorrected Proof, 1966

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, photography by Adrian Flowers. 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...

. . . . . . . . . .

ADDENDUM: In March 2019, six years after I originally posted this, I came across an uncorrected proof of the 1966 Gollancz edition of The Anti-Death League in a Lewes antique emporium. 

Extremely uncommon in its own right – it's the only proof of the novel I've ever seen – this copy is also remarkable in that it's an association copy, bearing the ownership signature of literary agent Hilary Rubinstein, who, when he was an editor at Gollancz, brought Amis's debut novel, Lucky Jim, to the publisher. Quite a nice find, then – especially for eight quid.


  1. Nice to see someone else that's read THE ANTI-DEATH LEAGUE, a subtle and interesting and unexpected novel. I rank it high on my list of Amis' work, though not at the top (best would be LUCKY JIM, THE GREEN MAN, ENDING UP, and THE OLD DEVILS for me, I think, with THE ANTI-DEATH LEAGUE and probably TAKE A GIRL LIKE YOU next).

    (I have an American First, not signed, alas!)

    Rich Horton

  2. I've never read any of his books--probably time to start.

  3. Anti-Death League is all that. My top title is The Folks that Live on the Hill, a compendium story about an interwoven cast of characters which is also a comment on modern life and an attempt to convey what it is actually like to be alive.

  4. Nick, I don't remember the couple of Kingsley Amis' books I read eons ago and clearly I have completely forgotten this fine writer. I am going to try and read some of his novels this year.

  5. Interesting to see other folks' favourite Amis titles. Having read a couple of the books for which he's better known, Lucky Jim among them, I've sort of reached the conclusion that I prefer those books where he's mucking about with genre, i.e. Colonel Sun, The Green Man, The Riverside Villas Murder and of course The Anti-Death League – the only exception thus far being the non-genre Ending Up, which I loved. I would like to give The Old Devils in particular a go quite soon though.