Difficulties with Girls (1988) is a sequel to Amis’s earlier novel Take a Girl Like You (1960). It has the same couple at its centre, Patrick and Jenny, both seven years older (real time has thus advanced four times as fast as novel time). Patrick has aged but not seen the error of his ways: he is a boozing philanderer. Jenny is struggling with her husband’s imperfections and contemplating a flingette of her own. As one might expect from a standard Amis novel, Patrick has the standard Amis ‘difficulties with girls’, largely arising from the fact that, as he sees it, ‘girls’ can’t think logically, they weep at a moment’s notice, they are selfish egomaniacs, etc.
But in early drafts the hero had difficulties of a completely different order. He was homosexual. Amis in fact spent a year creating a gay Jim Dixon. Later he abandoned the project: only the title survived, to be transferred to a totally new book. This is not (as I have pointed out before in these posts) a very uncommon strategy. Readers will remember that Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro was originally the title of an earlier uncompleted work, and that Seven Pillars of Wisdom by TE Lawrence was originally the title of a different book about seven middle-eastern cities.
So why did Kingsley Amis ditch the ‘gay hero’ idea? He was certainly seriously considering it – judging by the state of the manuscripts – and there are other homosexual themes in the final version of Difficulties with Girls, including a homosexual couple. It would have formed an interesting departure for a late Amis novel. But it seems that his nerve failed him. According to Kingsley’s son Martin, Kingsley was worried that his cronies at the Garrick Club would think he was gay. Martin Amis wrote: ‘I couldn’t believe it. That was supposed to be the point of Kingsley Amis: he didn’t care what people thought about him...’
Amis, Martin: Experience (2000)
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