Ben Jonson wrote: “Greatness of name in the father oft-times helps not forth, but overwhelms the son; they stand too near one another. The shadow kills the growth.” This Oedipal principle applies to all sorts of professions, but few more so than the literary one. It’s not unheard of for the child of an author to try his hand at writing. Stephen King’s two sons are writers, and so is one of John Updike’s. Hilma Wolitzer’s daughter Meg is a novelist, as is Anita Desai’s daughter Kiran, whose second book just won the Booker Prize — an award that has so far eluded her mother. But writers’ offspring tend to go into the family business with far less regularity than, say, the children of doctors or lawyers, and it seldom happens that over the long haul, and in the deepening shade, the younger equals or outstrips the elder — the way that Anthony Trollope, to take a famous example, bested his mother, Fanny.My own son once shocked and horrified me by saying he wanted to grow up to be either a lifeguard or a book reviewer. He was only 5 at the time, but all the same, I've been pushing the merits of lifeguarding ever since.
I've had this Leader bio of Kingsley Amis for months now, and was supposed to review it for the Toronto Star back in January, but instead spent my winter trying semi-successfully trying to get waist-deep into the writing of a second novel while reading my way through a crate of books as part of a jury for a provincial book award.
Now that things have cleared up somewhat, I plan to tackle the book, but back then, the sight of a 900-page literary biography – even about Amis, one of my favorites – was enough to drop me into a kind of emotional fetal position.