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The Alteration

3.58  ·  Rating details ·  930 Ratings  ·  115 Reviews
Hubert, the ten-year-old chorister’s glorious voice must be preserved at all costs. In Amis’s quasi-medieval England of 1976, a wickedly brilliant Swiftian satire takes shape. The modest proposal? Well, it stands to reason that castration is clearly the only answer.
Hardcover, 210 pages
Published January 20th 1977 by Viking Books (first published October 1976)
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Glenn Russell
Mar 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

The Alteration - Surely one of the most imaginative and oddest novels I’ve ever read, a striking cross between, believe it or not, Anthony Trollope and Philip K. Dick, as if Kingsley Amis wrote his novel on the weekends after sipping tea and chatting with Mr. Septimus Harding from Trollope’s The Warden on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and enjoying the time-bending hallucinogenic drug Chew-Z from Philip K. Dick’s The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch on Tuesday and Thursday. Sound incredible? It i
Sep 26, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
Nuts. Cojones. Balls.

Balls, Balls, Balls.

If you're going to read The Alteration, get used to thinking about testicles. Amis could just as easily have titled this book Never Mind the Bollocks or, most aptly considering the main drama of the narrative, A Farewell to Balls.

For make no mistake, this is the story of a young man and his dearly loved, but direly threatened gonads.

You may not think a book about the fate of a set of pre-pubescent nuts is your bag, but I'd wager you'd be wrong. Amis' st
I pick up Kingsley Amis with some trepidation, fearing more misogyny than the recommended daily allowance. But this was different. No alcoholic, adulterous husbands here.

This is, well . . . . Philip K. Dick calls this an "alternate-worlds novel". And he should know, as he's in the novel, or at least his novel ( The Man in the High Castle) is in this novel. Not quite science-fiction. It's a world where Sartre is a Jesuit priest, and Beethoven wrote twenty symphonies, and the most impressive battl
"Off With His Balls!!!"

Or maybe, another alternate title, "What PKD would have written if he was mired in Lutherism and he wanted to write something to counteract the hedonistic oddity that was Gravity's Rainbow"

Seriously, this is what Philip K Dick would have written if he was focused on Popes and the total emasculation of humanity. And rather than Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, we've got a ton of snipping or at least talk of snipping going on. :)

Let me talk about the world-building. It's all way
Very good. Very clever use of historical figures and cultural references. Those historical and cultural nods do make it a very cynical book. This novel is an attack on organised religion, in this case the Roman Catholic Church. Science is frowned upon and even suppressed in some cases. Even the enlightened practise apartheid and are ethnocentric.

I have been thinking about this book and Pavane by Keith Roberts. Amiss gives a nod to Pavane in this book as one of the many cultural references.
The s
Luke G
Sep 16, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Before this I had only read a little of Lucky Jim, and Kingsley Amis seemed a little too macho and mean-spirited a writer for me. This book has that feel too, but it is still pretty good. This is an alternate history narrative, like Philip Roth's The Plot Against America. Events take place in a social-conservative's wet-dream version of England, circa 1970: almost every instance of technological or social progress starting with the renaissance has failed to happen. The Vatican still rules the we ...more
Nicholas During
May 03, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Kingsley Amis does sci-fi well. If you're willing to call this sci-fi, which I'm sure many aren't. But whether you want to call it genre or not, Amis gets into the mood with this book and does what sci-fi, or speculative fiction, is meant: imagines a world very different from own. In this one the Reformation never happened. Luther became pope. England stayed Catholic. And the world is therefore a much more backward place. Science is a dirty word and the rituals and power of the Romish Church are ...more
Erik Graff
Aug 25, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: alternate history fans
Recommended to Erik by: Martin
Shelves: literature
This alternate history novel was given me as a birthday gift. Well chosen it was. It is cited by Philip K. Dick as "possibly the best" of the genre and introduced in this edition by William Gibson--both of whom appear, indirectly, within it. Dick, I'd imagine, liked its context, that being of a contemporary western world dominated by a reactionary and repressive Roman Catholic Church. Gibson praises it, exaggerating a bit, as representative of steampunk literature. I note it as being erudite, su ...more
Dec 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What an incredibly ingenious novel...and what an incredible story. This book is a good lesson in not being swayed by genera classification, or any classification for that matter, when deciding what to read. Although listed as alternative history or more generally as science fiction, it could be either or neither as it works so well on so many levels. The creation of an alternate present day reality, complete with familiar yet transformed, language, culture and customs works elegantly and the sub ...more
Oct 25, 2013 rated it it was ok
Another quick review. This is a very fun novel, but one that took me three or four tries to get into. Once I did, I read the whole thing in about three days. The beginning is very dense - the central idea takes some time to manifest itself, and in the meantime the reader is left puzzling over what the hell is going on. A melange of highbrow culture is referenced and re-figured in the alternate world Amis has created, and it takes some time to work through it. At least one course in Art History o ...more
Sue Davis
Fantastic! Why no African slavery in the southern part of North America? Without the reformation, many fewer settlers, thus less need for labor? Note the names of the priests in the second to the last part of the book: Maserati (designed car for Mussolini), Satterthwaite (mathematician, theorem for determining statistical significance, inferences, and Berlinguer (leader of Italian communist party); in the other world of the novel, the three discussed with the pope various ways to solve populatio ...more
Jul 08, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: golden-age-sf
A young boy Hubert has got a very brilliant voice. His father, mother and brothers are very proud of him. Certainly they wish cloudless future for him. An Abbot in one of the churches in England heard him singing many times. His voice captivated him. He thought up a nice plan. And here who said that radical religious monks are complete illogical folks? So the Abbot proposed a deal to the Hubert’s family.

Hubert was to be altered to serve for “the will of God” as a singer in the Abbot’s church. Wh
Fascinating book. The Alteration is a treasure simply for the wonderful uniqueness of its premise: a 1970s dystopia controlled by a Catholic church that never experienced the Reformation and Protestantism. It's a singularly fascinating riff on Philip K. Dick's Man in the High Castle, and written with a quality that makes me wonder if it is a taunt more than an homage, a flamboyant gesture seemingly saying 'that's all you did with the idea?' I'm sure Amis intended it as a clever homage, directly ...more
Fábio Fernandes
Apr 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
I can't believe I never heard of this book before. I always liked Kingsley Amis' novels, but apparently I hadn't read too many of them. Early this week I found it in a bookstore here in São Paulo and I was amazed by the synopsis - and by the William Gibson introduction (you can't go wrong with such a recommendation). So I bought it, naturally.

I read it in three days - and that's because I had work to do, alas. The Alteration is Alternate History of the best kind. Imagine PK Dick's The Man in the
Kingsley Amis's clever alternative fiction novel, "The Alteration" is equal parts disturbing and engaging. The world of the novel is one in which the reformation never took place and in which the church and the state remained closely intertwined and corrupt. Amis's deft and creative imagining of such a world is offset by his signature dark satire and the overall pessimistic tone out of which the characters of the novel are unable and indeed ultimately unwilling to escape. The story centers aroun ...more
May 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the most clever alternative history novels (or CW, as it's referred to in the book) that I've had the pleasure of reading. On one hand, you have the puzzle of figuring out exactly what happened to turn the world into a repressive, anti-science theocracy. On the other hand, you have a compelling account of a young boy's struggle to understand the importance of sex and love in the face of losing out on those experiences forever. In other words, Amis combines the grandiose sweep of history w ...more
Miruna Caragheorgheopol
Out of my five-book set I assembled to start a foray into the realm of alternate history (thanks to certain dystopic world circumstances), "The Alteration" was the first. As good an introduction to a new literary genre I wanted to explore as any, it also left me wanting to read more.

The premise to alternate history is that a certain historical event took place or was somehow changed. In this case, the Reformation never took place, Martin Luther became a pope and the UK in the '70s is a "bright"
I originally rated this three stars when I finished it last night, because I did enjoy reading it and it went very quickly, but upon reflection am downgrading it to two stars because of the ending.

(view spoiler)
Aaron Mcquiston
"The Alteration" is an alternative universe where the Reformation never happened, and the Catholic church still had as much influence over the world as it had before. Even though Amis does not go too in depth with how this has changed the world, you get a good sense that there are things that never progressed due to the church. So it is 1977 and still the superstitions and dogmas are in place in a way that cause the church to still be the ultimate authority. Bring in Hubert Anvil, a ten year old ...more
David Schwan
Jul 27, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I somewhat uneven novel. The authors descriptive abilities are impeccable. The plot was fine until the ending. It felt like this was written under a deadline and that the author had grander plans for the book. Late in the book we are introduced to a plot line that the Pope and his advisers are thinking about, that plot line was either filler or something that was to be bigger in scope. The split between Europe and North America was interesting with Europe Roman Catholic and North America Protest ...more
May 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I recently reread this clever, amusing, and rather frightening attack on the Roman Catholic church and found it as good as I first had over 30 years ago. The skill and thoroughness with which Amis imagines a world which had taken a different turning in the early 16th century is remarkable; the events of the novel are highly plausible given the initial premises; the characters are given surprising depth considering that the novel is short. There is some good evocation of scenery, and some remarka ...more
Feb 08, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Entertaining and engaging, a tale questioning the perspective of morals. I very much enjoyed the idea of this book.

My first KA book and was pleasantly surprised by the 'mordern', for want of a better term, feel of the book. I've read a few of Martins books, which appear to be an echo of this style, with quality to match.

I will definitely be keeping my eye for other titles.
Feb 17, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an interesting piece of fiction in which the setting is Europe in 1976, but...the reformation never happened. The story is fairly unpredictable and the word pictures are vivid. Worth reading.
May 08, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Alternative history where Martin Luther never kicked off the Protestant Reformation, so a Christian England is forcing a young boy to get castrated to preserve his singing voice.
Artur Coelho
Oct 06, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
É intrigante como Kingsley Amis consegue criar um ambiente de história alternativa de uma forma insidiosamente subtil, quase sem recorrer ao clássico infodump. Quando a meio de uma conversa entre personagens solta uma linha do género o vice rei do Brasil proclamou um édito quem se recorda minimamente da história fica a saber que em 1960 o Brasil era uma colónia portuguesa. Mas há melhor. Casualmente lemos que his eye passed over St. Lemuel's Travels and The Wind in the Cloisters, slowed down at ...more
Peter Knox
[Dan and Dean - don't read, wait until book club!]
I didn't think I'd like this book much when I started it... heavy on the olde-english literary why use one word when five will do, overwriting imagery, slow to set the stage: that it's the 1970s but the Catholic Church/Pope still governs/rules the world. Think alternative universe, with lags in technology and consolidated authoritarian power.

And it's not much of a spoiler to say the "The Alteration" in title refers to our main protagonist, who i
Sep 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
James Gandolfini's arm is long; beware the intrigues of the sociopath with power when they feel their authority is being bucked but they need to maintain the appearance of propriety and the moral high ground, they like to pretend they're in waste-management. The deception is almost worse than the reality. Oh, but those Je-chord-suits do like their Alto-Soprano songsters don't they? Just ask The Who? -- It may be speculative fiction but the new boss sure smells a lot like the old one. It smells l ...more
Ivy Bedworth
I was looking for some information on Henry VIII's son Henry (Catherine of Aragon's son), when I came across this title. Kingsley Amis's "The Alteration" is another interesting "what if" story. It even has a reference to "The Man in the High Tower" as being a world where people in 1976 live in our "alternative universe" with vehicles that fly, etc. This is the alternative universe of the Reformation not having happened, and Henry VIII' not becoming king, therefore there was no break from the Chu ...more
The Idle Woman
Jun 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really didn't get on with Lucky Jim, the only Amis novel I'd read so far, but just couldn't resist this piece of counterfactual fiction. What if Henry VII's eldest son Arthur hadn't died and Henry VIII had never inherited, never married Katharine of Aragon and never needed to divorce her? What if England had remained Catholic? What if Martin Luther, rather than hammering theses on doors at Wittenberg, had been listened to, respected, and allowed to exercise his desire for reform as Pope? And w ...more
Craig Dickson
Feb 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was really good, an alternative history (or as they'd call it in the story, a Counterfeit World) story set in the heart of the English Empire in 1976. Martin Luther didn't stay in Germany but instead went to Rome and became Pope, instituting some limited reforms. As such the Reformation never happened and European (and World) history was entirely different.

The upshot is that Britain is a brutal theocratic police state, electricity is shunned as devilish, and choirboys face some difficult si
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NYRB Classics: The Alteration, by Kingsley Amis 1 11 Oct 18, 2013 01:01PM  
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Sir Kingsley William Amis, CBE was an English novelist, poet, critic, and teacher. He wrote more than twenty novels, three collections of poetry, short stories, radio and television scripts, and books of social and literary criticism. He fathered the English novelist Martin Amis.

Kingsley Amis was born in Clapham, Wandsworth, Couty of London (now South London), England, the son of William Robert Am
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“Lyall felt he could not say which of two things was harder to put up with, the Abbot's conversational style, with its bland coherence and assumption of severely limited cogitative powers in the hearer, or his recurrent look of pleased surprise as each fresh piece of evidence of his wisdom or moral worth turned up, but between them they were likely to implant in certain minds a hardy seed of revolt.” 0 likes
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