Reviewing a new edition of Ulysses in 1986, Martin Amis had a few reservations about the book's popularity with scholarly intermediaries. James Joyce, he concluded, 'could have been the most popular boy in the school, the funniest, the cleverest, the kindest. He ended up with a more ambiguous distinction: he became the teacher's pet.' How is Amis getting on in this notional academy? In 1986, with Money two years behind him, the untouchable champ of the Lower Sixth had recently been made Head Boy of his metropolitan English school. Since then, his prefectorial duties have inevitably 'entrained' - as he might put it - the deployment of a certain official pomposity. Once a brilliant back-of-the-classroom joker, he has increasingly felt himself called on to deliver grave and improving speeches, although he has not always looked comfortable while doing so. 'When I read someone's prose,' he said recently, with a withering glare at his fellow prefects, 'I reckon to get a sense of their moral life.' Regrettably, a few of the younger pupils were seen smirking at the back of the hall, perhaps because the book he was brandishing - by Lenin, no less - wasn't written in English. So now he's going to take the whole school round the back of the bike sheds, crack out the Rothmans and floor the wits with some incredibly dirty jokes.
LRB 11 September 2003 | PDF Download