Take a Girl Like You

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Take a Girl Like You
TakeAGirlLikeYou.jpg
First edition
Author Kingsley Amis
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Comic novel
Publisher Gollancz
Publication date
1960
Media type Print (Paperback)
Pages 320 pp

Take a Girl Like You is a comic novel by Kingsley Amis. The narrative follows the progress of twenty-year-old Jenny Bunn, who has moved from her family home in the North of England to a small town not far from London to teach primary school children. Jenny is a 'traditional' Northern working-class girl whose dusky beauty strikes people as being at odds with the old-fashioned values she has gained from her upbringing, not least the conviction of 'no sex before marriage'. A thread of the novel concerns the frustrations of the morally dubious Patrick Standish, a 30-year-old teacher at a local private secondary school and his attempts to, by hook or by crook, accomplish the seduction of Jenny; all this against a backdrop of Jenny's new teaching job, Patrick's work and his leisure time with flatmate and colleague Graham and their new acquaintance, the well-off and somewhat older man-about-town, Julian Ormerod.

Background[edit]

Take a Girl Like You is Kingsley Amis's fourth novel. Unlike his previous works, in which the point of view of the narrative is exclusively that of the male protagonist, in this novel Amis has set himself the challenge of supplying the point of view of the female protagonist, Jenny Bunn and the male protagonist, Patrick Standish. Amis never allows the points of view to merge within the text but presents them in separate, alternating sections, several chapters at a time. Although written in both cases in the third person, the device allows the reader to get inside the minds of the two people, see how they view their environments and each other and follow the development (or non-development) of their morals and outlooks on life.

Although they share an academic setting, unlike the eponymous hero of Lucky Jim, who is, for all his comic antics, a fundamentally decent and morally upright figure, Patrick is a 'cool guy', a sports car-driver and 'skirt-chaser', who manages to maintain his teaching duties and finds time for commitments such as play-staging, film club organising and local Labour Party involvement. Much of the novel's comic element stems from Amis's presentation of down-to-earth Jenny's observations of the curious ways of the Southerners around her and from Patrick's escapades, which have a tendency to backfire.

Plot[edit]

The novel opens with Jenny Bunn's arrival at her lodging-house. She's a young, strikingly beautiful, Northern girl who has moved to a small town outside London, to take her first teaching job. Jenny has rented a room in the home of middle-aged couple, Dick and Martha Thompson. Dick is apparently some sort of auctioneer and Martha is a housewife, who is bored, cynical and at times openly hostile towards young Jenny. Anna, the Thompsons' other lodger, is a changeable young woman who is apparently French.

Within half an hour of her arrival, Jenny meets Patrick Standish, an acquaintance of the Thompsons, who wastes no time in asking if he can ring her to arrange a date. Patrick takes Jenny to what seems to her to be a fashionable, upmarket Italian restaurant but which Amis makes clear is a classless provincial pseudo-Italianate place. Bowled over by Patrick's charm, Jenny accompanies him in his noisy sports car to the flat he shares with teaching colleague, Graham, who is by Patrick's arrangement, not at home. A cosy session of listening to gramophone records and kissing (enough for Jenny on a first date) develops at Patrick's behest into heavy petting, which Patrick takes for granted will lead to the bedroom. Jenny is adamant and is forced to pull his hair to make him stop. Jenny explains, to Patrick's wonderment, that she intends to remain a virgin until she is married.

The rest of the novel relates, from Jenny's point of view, the progress of her relationship with Patrick, her activities as a new teacher, getting to know the people around her and a string of incidents such as a visit to Julian's house, a date with Graham and an embarrassing scene in which Dick makes a clumsy pass at her in the kitchen.

From Patrick's point of view, are described his activities at school, his outlook on life and the escapades that follow becoming acquainted with the urbane Julian Ormerod, who has a big house in the countryside near the town. A lengthy section of the book is assigned to a trip with Julian to London, which includes a trawl around the strip-clubs of Soho, a visit to the apartment of two of Julian's lady friends, followed by a night on the town for the four of them, in which Patrick has altogether too much to drink.

For a time, Jenny and Patrick enjoy a carefree period of 'going steady' but this is not enough for Patrick, who finds himself sexually frustrated. In the end he gives Jenny an ultimatum: either she goes to bed with him or the relationship is over. Patrick, after ensuring the absence of Graham, waits for her to come to his flat but she doesn't come. Patrick's morals are spotlighted at this point by his going to bed with a girl who, after Jenny's no-show, happens to knock on his door, a girl who is not only still a schoolgirl but is also his headmaster's daughter!

It would now appear that Patrick and Jenny have broken up but at a boozy and somewhat riotous party at Julian's house, Patrick takes advantage, in the early hours, of a tired and sozzled Jenny in one of the guest bedrooms. Julian is disapproving of Patrick's behaviour and is sympathetic to Jenny, who is at first very upset and says she never wants to see Patrick again. Later in the day, presumably because of her deep feelings for him, Jenny changes her mind and accepts what has happened as inevitable. There is no obvious 'happy ever after'.

Style[edit]

Amis's style, in common with that of other mid-twentieth century writers but in contrast to that of writers like James, Woolf and Joyce, has been described as "neo-realist". Rabinovitz writes of these neo-realist writers that

Their styles are plain, their time-sequences are chronological, and they make no use of myth, symbol or stream-of-consciousness inner narratives.

— Rabinovitz[1]

To bring the world of the novel as close as possible to the physical world of the reader, Amis takes great care to describe in great detail, in what appear to be a series of entirely incidental details, the minutiae of the lodging house, for example, are meticulously (and humorously) described

[The kitchen] door had another little brass knocker on it, this time representing a religious-looking person on a donkey. The room was a long narrow one that ended with a further door and a large, oblong, buff-coloured stove. A medium-sized woman with reddish hair and a purple dress was doing something to the stove but stopped when they came in.

— Rabinovitz[2]

and the plot of Take a Girl Like You follows traditional realistic conventions and has been compared to that of Clarissa (Samuel Richardson, 1748). Like Clarissa, Jenny Bunn is young, beautiful and virtuous and attempts to defend her virginity, whilst providing an opportunity for the next assault.[3]

Film[edit]

Take a Girl Like You was filmed in 1970, directed by Jonathan Miller from an adaptation by George Melly. It starred Hayley Mills, Oliver Reed, Sheila Hancock, Ronald Lacey, John Bird, Noel Harrison, Aimi MacDonald and Penelope Keith. A three part television series adapted by Andrew Davies was made in 2000.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Rubin Rabinovitz The Reaction Against Experimentation in the English Novel, 1950–1960, p. 9.
  2. ^ Rubin Rabinovitz The Reaction Against Experimentation in the English Novel, 1950–1960, p. 9.
  3. ^ Rubin Rabinovitz The Reaction Against Experimentation in the English Novel, 1950–1960, pp. 43–4

Sources[edit]

  • Farce and Society: The Range of Kingsley Amis, R. B. Parker, Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature, Vol. 2, No. 3 (Autumn, 1961), pp. 27–38