Martin Amis: fire away!

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Why does everybody hate on Martin Amis? I know I've sort of covered this before, but I'm honestly puzzled. Money was bleh, but he hit his stride in London Fields and The Information which are rilly the same book except that London Fields can be deciphered and The Information is as opaque as people are. Then there's Time's Arrow, which is a neat work with strong payoff. Is it an image thing that I'd get if I was in the UK? Like the hype &c turn ppl off? Is it that everyone else has read different things than I have, things which indeed are truly terrible? I want answers.

Sterling Clover, Thursday, 2 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-one years ago) link

Any full length novels by him that I tried to read annoyed me but you know what I thought was good, that bk. of short stories that came out a year or 2 ago (forgot the name) had this story "The Janitor On Mars" that was just the best short story I'd read for, I dunno. I get the idea he's most tolerable when there are no characters in the story that are anything like real life modern day English people 'cause as a satirist of the actual society he lives in (that's mainly what he wants to be, right?), he sucks.

duane, Thursday, 2 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-one years ago) link

I think everybody hates Martin Amis because he's a neppo (see: Private Eye competition to name shortest imaginary book. Hands-down winner was 'My Struggle' by Martin Amis). It is debatable whether or not we'd care about him so much if Daddy were not one of Britain's most well-known middlebrow writers ever. Sterling is right about the books that are good, above, esp. Time's Arrow which is a total headfuck. But I should add to the list the bloody Rachel Papers - excellent bit of fluff.

suzy, Thursday, 2 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-one years ago) link

'Time's Arrow' might've been a headfuck if i knew what the hell he was getting at. Could someone explain the 'point' to me? Not a put- down, I'm genuinely curious.

dave q, Thursday, 2 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-one years ago) link

Time's Arrow also = done better in 5-page THARG'S FUTURE SHOCK in the early 80s (called 'The Reversible Man' or something). Well OK I have never read TA but that has long been my unshakable lowbrow opinion.

Tom, Thursday, 2 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-one years ago) link

The THARGS FUTURE SHOCK version of London Fields kicked ass as well. Is there no Amis novel which cannot be condensed into a five page comic strip presented by the alien editor of 2000AD? I think not.

Pete, Thursday, 2 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-one years ago) link

Is there no *novel* which cannot etc. etc.

Which was the THARG'S FUTURE SHOCKS version of London Fields?

Tom, Thursday, 2 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-one years ago) link

Saturn Fields - about a wide boy Arcatuan hyper-darts player and a knackered out old comix writer from Earth do lots of futuristic swearing and end up killing someone.

Pete, Thursday, 2 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-one years ago) link

The 'Future Shock' was written by Alan Moore, btw, but was itself a rip-off of Phillip K. Dick's novel 'Counter-Clock World'. Martin Amis simply added the holocaust for 'significance' (he also ripped off an excellent non-fiction bk on Nazi doctors by an author whose name I can't remember at the moment.)

I know I know that Sir Kingsley was terrible old reactionary - but also a much funnier, more humane and insightful writer than his rep/public image suggests. 'Old Devils' a brilliant portrait of dissapointed old age that pisses over anything written by Amis junior. 'Night Train', M.A.'s feeble attempt to write an American crime novel a la Elmore Leonard, is his career nadir, containing one of the worst opening sentences of all time - "I am a Police" etc.

Andrew L, Thursday, 2 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-one years ago) link

Not to reverse opinion on 2000AD and MA, but Tharg's Future Shocks ONLY EVER HAD ONE STORY, week after week year after year. Or was that Tharg's Timetwisters? Anyway, the use of the word "shock" became highly hilarious quite soon.

I took against M.Amis when I heard him say on the radio in 1977 or 778: "The Blank Generation have no moral energy." (It has been pointed out to me subsequently that to harbour a death-dealing rage for 25 years over what may have been a throwaway wind-up joke where he changed his mind WITHIN MINUTES may well be a scenario which comes to bite me on the ass in times to come. LET IT COME: for he cannot write to save his life and that is all. Nabokov indeed.

mark s, Thursday, 2 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-one years ago) link

Mark S: this is what was GRATE about TFS, obviously. My brother has done a really fantastic series of TFS parodies. "Noooo! You fools! In the ALIEN LANGUAGE "We come in peace" means "WAR WAR WAR!"" huge exclamation mark. etc.

Tom, Thursday, 2 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-one years ago) link

I took against M.Amis when I heard him say on the radio in 1977 or 778: "The Blank Generation have no moral energy."

Was it the poor grammar that riled you, mark?

Nick, Thursday, 2 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-one years ago) link

My 2 favourite MA books are The Rachel Papers and Money. I do get a bit pissed off by some of his self-consciously stylistic tricks, but I think he writes good stuff. Everyone hates him because he seems to be in the public eye a lot, and he likes to talk about himself a bit too much. I don't think his fiction is as good as it could be. If he could just cool down on the smart-arse post-modern self-centred stuff and just get on with the jokes he'd be great.

Kingsley, on the other hand, had a wonderful style which no one has ever imitated. You read his stuff with a constant smirk. MA wishes he could do that.

Sam, Thursday, 2 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-one years ago) link

Collective nouns are plural and/or singular, dependent on whether you refer to the THINGS AS A WHOLE, or the individuals every man/womanjack within. eg C4 is a radical leftwing org C.Morris *BUT* C4 are a bunch o'tossers.... Amis grammar fine.

mark s, Thursday, 2 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-one years ago) link

His style is quite irritating to me, but (damning w/faint praise) I do quite like some of his non-fiction (perhaps because it's in small doses) He was quite the model of aristokratick disdainful cool on that daft Ch4 discussion prog hosted by will self, & featuring GRATE raddled appearance by tracey emin as well.

I rather doubt he'll ever write anything as good as "the green man" by his dad, tho. xoxo

Norman Fay, Thursday, 2 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-one years ago) link

I too have tried Amis but i can only conclude that people by his books to appear intelligent when anyone looks at their bookcase. In fact I'm pretty sure I saw one of those books as a hiding spot for your valuables with an Amis cover in the crappy catelogue you get with your Barclaycard bill. Bollocks basically. As is Will Self, inventor of words

tom, Thursday, 2 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-one years ago) link

wasn't he the guy who wrote a fluff piece on john travolta for the new yorker? i assume he's done other work as well.

fred solinger, Thursday, 2 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-one years ago) link

I love Marin Amis. I think he erudite and clever. He writes well . Although he is a much stronger critic then he is a fiction writer.

anthony, Thursday, 2 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-one years ago) link

I liked Success - it had a good line where the anti-hero forms a hatred against some puctuation. A novel idea to me.

He did a good enough piece on the Californian pornography industry for the Guradian, although he did brag about his cosy chats with Salman Rushdie etc (Julian Barnes no doubt glowering in a corner).

Tharg's Porno Shocks was a lucrative idea too quickly dismissed by Fleetway.

He's Not Here, Thursday, 2 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-one years ago) link

His style irritates the fuck out of me, and his novels are populated with two dimensional grotesques. That multiplied by his hype machine is more than enough to put him up there in the pantheon of arse bastards with Damon and co.

Richard Tunnicliffe, Thursday, 2 August 2001 00:00 (twenty-one years ago) link

eight months pass...
loved his fiction when i was 10, hated it when i was 15. read time's arrow a few years ago and thought it pretty good. read experience last year and thought it pretty magnificent - has anyone else here read it? i had way, way more respect for him after that. in fact i must reread it pretty urgently.

on the other hand i then read the rachel papers and couldn't believe how bad it was.

so, classic for experience, dud for pretty much everything else, i guess.

toby, Tuesday, 2 April 2002 00:00 (twenty-one years ago) link

I really enjoy the energy of his prose. And he's an excellent critic.

Martin Skidmore, Tuesday, 2 April 2002 00:00 (twenty-one years ago) link

two years pass...
'Experience' is okay when C Hitchens is on the scene, but otherwise it's deathly dull unless you're up for some lit-world point-scoring and some windy stuff about coincidences.

Enrique (Enrique), Monday, 14 June 2004 07:46 (eighteen years ago) link

three years pass...


s1ocki, Tuesday, 8 April 2008 16:38 (fifteen years ago) link

I's 100% certain I agree with everything the critic says without ever having to even glance at the book's front cover.

chap, Tuesday, 8 April 2008 16:41 (fifteen years ago) link


Oops, bit of an Ali G moment there.

chap, Tuesday, 8 April 2008 16:42 (fifteen years ago) link

too bad the critic is Michiko Katatani.

Alfred, Lord Sotosyn, Tuesday, 8 April 2008 16:44 (fifteen years ago) link

I don't know who that is.

chap, Tuesday, 8 April 2008 16:45 (fifteen years ago) link

yeah i hate Michiko but hey she uses the word chucklehead within the first paragraph, so there's that.

Mr. Que, Tuesday, 8 April 2008 16:45 (fifteen years ago) link

I did like that, true.

Alfred, Lord Sotosyn, Tuesday, 8 April 2008 16:56 (fifteen years ago) link

There was an article in the Sunday Times or similar recently denouncing those hatin' on Nigella, because of her struggles as a single mother to make a success of her life. Yes, I know this isn't about Amis, but it kind of is really.

Ismael Klata, Tuesday, 8 April 2008 16:57 (fifteen years ago) link

this is a great slapdown!

"this article is by michiko kakutani" is not really a cogent criticism. surely you can do better.

s1ocki, Tuesday, 8 April 2008 16:58 (fifteen years ago) link

wait, this new Amis has fiction and non fiction in the same book?

Mr. Que, Tuesday, 8 April 2008 17:01 (fifteen years ago) link

9/11 changed everything

s1ocki, Tuesday, 8 April 2008 17:02 (fifteen years ago) link

"this article is by michiko kakutani" is not really a cogent criticism. surely you can do better.

I thought "Michiko Katutani" was enough to alert our readers that a first-class pedant reviewed the book. This isn't a badly written essay though.

Alfred, Lord Sotosyn, Tuesday, 8 April 2008 17:10 (fifteen years ago) link

Is Koba the Dread worth reading?

Alfred, Lord Sotosyn, Wednesday, 9 April 2008 13:14 (fifteen years ago) link

not really unless you're invested in finding out what a pair of choads amis and hitch have become over the last two decades.

banriquit, Wednesday, 9 April 2008 13:28 (fifteen years ago) link

I think that, as a result of this latest piece of crap from Amis, people will now accept, retrospectively, that "Koba the Dread" was a load of bollocks too

Tom D., Wednesday, 9 April 2008 13:29 (fifteen years ago) link

Mr. Amis, ever the littérateur, prattles on about the appropriateness of the abbreviation “9/11” and how this formulation makes little sense in Britain, where the habit of noting the day first and the month second would make this “11/9."

oh christ he really is a pub bore.

banriquit, Wednesday, 9 April 2008 13:33 (fifteen years ago) link

how this formulation makes little sense in Britain

But it's true! When I say 9/11 no-one, but no-one, knows what I'm talking about!

Raw Patrick, Wednesday, 9 April 2008 13:43 (fifteen years ago) link

Michael Haneke really ought to be paying Amis a residual, since the plot of Funny Games appears virtually unchanged in The Information.

Dingbod Kesterson, Wednesday, 9 April 2008 13:46 (fifteen years ago) link

Even before he turned reactionary just like his old man, I never got on with Martin Amis. For all his focus on the importance of style, I find his own style so horribly try-hard as to be almost unreadable: "The contrails of the more distant aeroplanes were like incandescent spermatozoa, sent out to fertilise the universe." I guess there are people who like that kind of sentence-making, but not me.

The last thing I read of his was "Night Train", a piss-poor effort at a crime novel.

Zelda Zonk, Wednesday, 9 April 2008 13:49 (fifteen years ago) link

Anyway, generally, "like father like son - sooner or later" shock horror youth cult probe...

Dingbod Kesterson, Wednesday, 9 April 2008 13:49 (fifteen years ago) link

aye that was bad. i suspect if i re-read the novels i claim to like, all of them read more than ten years ago, i would find myself not liking them so much. some of the critical essays i reckon are probably still ok.

banriquit, Wednesday, 9 April 2008 13:50 (fifteen years ago) link


banriquit, Wednesday, 9 April 2008 13:51 (fifteen years ago) link

The Information is hilarious.

You Britishers sure are crazy when it comes to Martin Amis

Mr. Que, Wednesday, 9 April 2008 13:55 (fifteen years ago) link

xp: Koba the Dread's pretty good. I certainly enjoyed it and there are lots of insane and entertaining facts in there, as one would expect I suppose. I like all those economicslite, diet sociology books, and Koba is like an equivalent for history - only with an exceptionally intrusive and highly-strung narrator, rather than a laidback Gladwell dude.

Ismael Klata, Wednesday, 9 April 2008 14:45 (fifteen years ago) link

The last thing I read of his was "Night Train", a piss-poor effort at a crime novel.


roxymuzak, Wednesday, 9 April 2008 15:01 (fifteen years ago) link

I suspect his novels wouldn't work for me the way the used to (except the ones I didn't like the first time round, like Yellow Dog or Night Train, which would work exactly the way they did), but I still maintain 'Experience' is a nifty, slightly mad, bit of wonderfulness.

James Morrison, Thursday, 10 April 2008 00:01 (fifteen years ago) link

yeah EXPERIENCE is fantastic. his best book since MONEY.

pisces, Thursday, 10 April 2008 00:11 (fifteen years ago) link

he was an ass

the dreaded dependent claus (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Friday, 26 May 2023 21:50 (one week ago) link

I had forgotten the thing about his cousin.

Cathy Berberian Begins at Home (James Redd and the Blecchs), Sunday, 28 May 2023 01:04 (one week ago) link

I remember reading him on his cousin's murder, it was a rare occasion of Fred West being referred to by the name proper, Frederick. Someone lent me Dead Babies once and I didn't finish it. My impression of it was that the writer is an unfunny arrogant jerkoff and horribly English. I've got some vague memory of him enthusing about greyhound racing, classic poshboy posturing and seeing a glamour amongst the riff raff stuff iirc.

calzino, Sunday, 28 May 2023 09:48 (one week ago) link

Calzino - this isn't the Blur thread!


the pinefox, Sunday, 28 May 2023 12:22 (one week ago) link

The marvellous creaminess of alex james brie

michel goindry (wins), Sunday, 28 May 2023 12:40 (one week ago) link

the mockney crew hitting Walthamstow for an evening meeting. And rubbing shoulders with low-level criminals and doing £10 tricasts and £50 singles on every trap 6 without studying any form. Drinking weak lager and feeling completely transformed! Good fun really!

calzino, Sunday, 28 May 2023 12:51 (one week ago) link

I've never heard Amis attempting a mockney accent. But I think Albarn did, or did he? My memory says he did and made quite a fool out of himself. But I dont trust my memory.

calzino, Sunday, 28 May 2023 13:02 (one week ago) link

I did a few nights temping bar work at Wimbledon greyhound track in the mid 90s. Unfortunately I never spotted any Blur members or Martin Amis there.

calzino, Sunday, 28 May 2023 13:05 (one week ago) link

TBH I feel that Albarn still does, every time he talks.

the pinefox, Sunday, 28 May 2023 20:07 (one week ago) link

The Amis / Albarn connexion is not merely a whim -- I think they actually met for a newspaper interview in 1994? Within Albarn's lyrics there was just enough to suggest the debt to Amis that was, I think, advertised ('trouble in the message centre', 'for tomorrow', 'colin zeal', you name it).

the pinefox, Sunday, 28 May 2023 20:09 (one week ago) link

*Cough* - where are Alfred's thoughts on *The Information*?

Stars of the Lidl (Chinaski), Sunday, 28 May 2023 20:09 (one week ago) link

I'm reading Alan Hollingshurst's *The Line of Beauty* and I'm sure it's partly recency bias but there are sections of this that remind me a lot of Amis. It's not as pointedly nasty, but some of the 'slumming it' quality of the satire is pure Amis.

Stars of the Lidl (Chinaski), Sunday, 28 May 2023 20:14 (one week ago) link

I don't much agree with that. It's superbly written, but in a rather different way from Amis's. And that particular novel contains very little 'slumming it' -- rather the opposite: climbing above the author's station (according to him), and the protagonist's. Insofar as the novel is satire (which I think it verges into, but isn't primarily), the objects are mainly very rich or even aristocratic.

Maybe the resemblance to Amis is basic: we associate him with the 1980s, and we might associate him with Notting Hill / West London, and TLOB is a bullseye for both those criteria.

the pinefox, Monday, 29 May 2023 21:08 (one week ago) link

Hollinghurst is a way better novelist

the dreaded dependent claus (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 29 May 2023 21:50 (one week ago) link

And pinefox otm: it ain't satire

the dreaded dependent claus (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 29 May 2023 21:51 (one week ago) link

Yeah, ill-thought-through posts that look dumber the further away you get from them, part 23...

For some kind of clarity, I don't see the novel as satire at all, but there is something about writing about the ruling class that I somehow see *automatically* as satire, as if I can't take them seriously. I don't know if it's a defence mechanism or what, but some sections of the novel (the party at the Kesslers' for example) could read like satire, I think. And the bit that specifically made me think of Amis was a moment where the family are in the Feddens' kitchen and Gerald and 'Badger' (ffs) have returned from a game of tennis. The whole thing is such a florid absurdity...

The clumsy 'slumming it' comment acknowledges my hyper-awareness of class and the general unease I feel when Hollingshurst is writing 'down' and particularly when he writes about race. I need to dig into that a bit more.

And though Amis and Hollingshurst are aiming for different things, it's hard to disagree that Hollingshurst is the 'better' novelist - if we're taking 'better' to mean what the novel does best, ie tracking the tiny moment-to-moment shifts in experience, as part of the overall project of creating a unified consciousness. The attention to psychological acuity is extraordinary. The sex is great, too.

Stars of the Lidl (Chinaski), Tuesday, 30 May 2023 10:00 (one week ago) link

for sure he's one of the few novelists who doesn't step on a rake when describing sex.

the dreaded dependent claus (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 30 May 2023 10:03 (one week ago) link

I think inspiring Albarn must go down in the negatives column of Amis's legacy. Not sure what direct influence might go in the positives?

"I didn’t get into Martin Amis by choice; when I was at drama school I auditioned for a part in The Rachel Papers and when I got down to the last three or four I thought I’d better read the book. I didn’t really like it and I had no real desire to read anything else, until, in 1992, when Blur were doing our second tour of America, I read London Fields and it saved me. It gave me so many new options; I’d been quite traditional in my reading until then, stopping at Charles Bukowski and Saul Bellow. London Fields had a massive effect on me. It had a real sexual freedom. Keith Talent was so English and I wanted to be him. I wanted to read everything by Martin Amis after that. I thought Money had a kind of hedonistic energy about it, but the only other book which really grabbed me was Time’s Arrow. I lost faith with The Information. I didn’t relate to it at all. London Fields is so funny and sexy that you are distracted from the nihilism, but with The Information I thought Amis had lost all his optimism. There are two sides to Notting Hill: the good area to the east of Ladbroke Grove, which is where Keith Talent and I live, and the area on the west side where Martin Amis seems to have moved. And all the fuss about the $100,000 advance stank. I think he will have to write something really remarkable to make amends. Having said that, he changed a small part of my life for ever and in that sense he is a great author."
- Damon Albarn on Martin Amis, Arena Magazine, 1996

Piedie Gimbel, Tuesday, 30 May 2023 10:06 (one week ago) link

*Cough* - where are Alfred's thoughts on *The Information*?

― Stars of the Lidl (Chinaski), Sunday, May 28, 2023 4:09 PM

It began promisingly, and often his metaphors aren't overwrought, but the plot slipped through my hands sometime after Tull's tour of America.

the dreaded dependent claus (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 30 May 2023 10:16 (one week ago) link

I’d been quite traditional in my reading until then, stopping at Charles Bukowski and Saul Bellow.

The idea of Bukowski and Bellow as "traditional reading" and of Amis as a bold way out of that really feels like something out of a long distant era.

Daniel_Rf, Tuesday, 30 May 2023 10:20 (one week ago) link

"London Fields had a massive effect on me. It had a real sexual freedom. Keith Talent was so English and I wanted to be him. [...] London Fields is so funny and sexy that you are distracted from the nihilism"

This is a really stupid comment about the novel LONDON FIELDS. The supposed "sexual freedom" that DA identifies with is repellent, violent and immoral. (I don't mean that real sexual freedom would be those things.)

His comment overall is bad and odd.

the pinefox, Tuesday, 30 May 2023 10:24 (one week ago) link

re Chinaski's post:

I don't think TLOB is absolutely not satire or satire. I think it's primarily an impressionistically realistic novel, but that it is fluent and adaptable enough that it verges in and out of satire. It is very different from the cartoonish Amis in this way. I agree with Chinaski that the satire is around the upper classes.

I don't share Chinaski's view that when AH writes about somewhat lower class characters, and black characters, he gives the impression of slumming it (nor of being satirical). I think he is quite sensitive, observant and thoughtful. Nuances of class, race and religion are delicately handled. However, I am thinking of TLOB here, whereas the other novels, like SP LIBRARY, might give a different impression.

I agree that AH is the better novelist in his way, but this is rather question-begging in that MA is, by definition, better at being a novelist in the MA way. We can say that there are different kinds of novels.

Chinaski is correct to say: "if we're taking 'better' to mean what the novel does best, ie tracking the tiny moment-to-moment shifts in experience, as part of the overall project of creating a unified consciousness. The attention to psychological acuity is extraordinary."

This is a totally sound description.

the pinefox, Tuesday, 30 May 2023 10:31 (one week ago) link

I think a lot of Britpop or whatever you want to call stupid British people in rock bands were Bukowski readers in the early 90's iirc from NME interviews at the time. Apart from Oasis who more than likely only read tabloid newspapers and lad magazines.

calzino, Tuesday, 30 May 2023 10:32 (one week ago) link

got to admit I really loved Ham on Rye at the time

calzino, Tuesday, 30 May 2023 10:35 (one week ago) link

"he changed a small part of my life for ever and in that sense he is a great author"

the pinefox, Tuesday, 30 May 2023 10:52 (one week ago) link

re Gimbel's post:

Psychedelic Furs' Richard Butler also claimed to be reading / influenced by Amis for 1981's TALK TALK TALK lp !

the pinefox, Tuesday, 30 May 2023 10:53 (one week ago) link

I started a re-read of London Fields - I'm (checks kindle) 20% of the way through and it does seem terrible to me - there's something thin about Keith Talent so far, not quite enough detail and attention to sustain the London grotesque (it doesn't help that his phonetic and syntactical mimicry sound way off to me - doesn't have his Dad's ear); doomy pompous paragraphs; stretches with a lot of Nicola Six, who doesn't immediately seem a counterargument to 'can't do women'.

The sex stuff hasn't really kicked off. I suspect I'll go some of the way with poster Pinefox here, though my descriptive terms would be different - I don't think 'sexual freedom' and 'sexiness' are really in Amis. Whenever I read him, sex = disgust, anxiety, fear, with a kink edge that he's not really reconciled to. So yeah, Albarn's description is barely recognisable as the book I'm reading.

If this is maybe a Nabokovian trick box - everything is from the perspective of the American writer who narrates and cannot treat these people as real - then I don't know, it's in the Ada or Ardor zone of the narrator's flaws boring me.

I'll carry on and see if I warm to it.

On the other hand I am really surprised that the Zone of Interest is working.

woof, Tuesday, 30 May 2023 10:56 (one week ago) link

tbc I'm not surprised Bukowski was read amongst britpop types, more surprised they'd consider him "traditional reading".

Daniel_Rf, Tuesday, 30 May 2023 11:02 (one week ago) link

On the other hand I am really surprised that the Zone of Interest is working.

The film or the book?

The Original Human Beat Surrender (James Redd and the Blecchs), Tuesday, 30 May 2023 11:51 (one week ago) link

I mean, the TLOB character I remember before anyone else is Leo Charles. I've no idea how well Hollinghurst captured the reality of a gay Black man and his mum in the early '80s, but he drew him well enough such that I can imagine a novel about him.

the dreaded dependent claus (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 30 May 2023 11:53 (one week ago) link

The book - reading it alongside London Fields.

woof, Tuesday, 30 May 2023 11:55 (one week ago) link

FWIW Leo's sister, and her (woman) partner, and the minute details of their late interaction with Nick Guest, are yet another small part of the fine texture of that novel -- another set of realisations (for Nick) about the unspoken complexities of that family he's only visited once.

In other words, as usual, I think this novel is very good.

the pinefox, Tuesday, 30 May 2023 12:39 (one week ago) link

Confession: took me a while to realize that by TLOB y'all mean The Line of Beauty.

For a second I wondered whether you were discussing "Life of Brian."

Landfill Collins (Ye Mad Puffin), Tuesday, 30 May 2023 12:40 (one week ago) link

Edward Docx, New Statesman:


The second time I went to interview Martin Amis was again at his London house in Primrose Hill. He had no real reason to be kind to me that day and yet his spontaneous willingness to give me his time and encouragement was indicative of a lesser-documented quality in his character and, I think, his writing: the quality of generosity. And that’s what I want to illuminate a little here. Now that he has gone. Or, rather, as he would say: now that he has migrated permanently and exclusively to the shelf.

I buzzed the security gate that he felt it necessary to maintain. He opened the front door himself – a one-man essay in how bad posture and a nicotine-squint might perversely signal great courtesy and clarity of vision. (Like his generosity, this oddly paradoxical relation has its counterpart on the page.) Come on in. Come on in. His life, he said, was pretty full and also pretty full of shit – by which he meant actual nappies (he had infant daughters at that time) as well as the by-now brisk and regular dunking in excrement that he suffered at the hands of the British media. We sat down in his airy library with its ever-open volumes of the OED and I thought about asking him to sign my copy of his book, but then decided against – on grounds of faux-professionalism and real embarrassment.

There were many reasons for Martin not to be generous that day. For one thing, his daughters and sons twanged in and out of his afternoon with what seemed to be an escalating series of personal ultimatums. For another, he had come to loathe British journalists. He had already started work on possibly his most repulsive character in a world-class field: Clint Smoker, the journalist of Yellow Dog (2003) – “furiously commuting from Foulness, near Southend, where he had a semi… [and lived in]… a condition of untouchable sordor”. For a third, there was the regrettable truth that the paper I worked for at that time was – at best – a confused farrago of irrelevance with less than zero purchase on his career, standing or future. And, last but not least, there was the undeniable fact that I was insultingly young to be doing anything with anyone – let alone talking to a national figure about his life, times and intimate biography. And yet, here he was giving me the time of day, offering triple-distilled coffee, regretting the noises-off, remembering lines from my first interview, wondering how full Tom Wolfe’s novel A Man in Full had turned out to be now that I had finished reading it.

I got to know Martin a little in the period between Heavy Water (1998) and Koba the Dread (2002) – not well, but enough to risk calling him Martin and for him to know about my ambitions to become a novelist; enough to be invited to the occasional party and to speak a few times on the phone when, for example, he randomly wanted tickets for a Bob Dylan concert. (He loved “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and especially the lines: “Get sick, get well/Hang around the ink well.”) The first time we met had been for the now roundly unremembered collection Heavy Water. (Which, by the way, is casually littered with all the usual gleaming treasures of phrasing – the “highly calibrated insouciance” of a screenwriter called Alistair being a personal favourite.) But that day, the business before us was his life. We were supposed to be talking about his memoir – and one of his two masterpieces – Experience (2000).

I was there under false pretences. I had zero interest in his teeth, his money or his relationships. I didn’t even want to be a journalist. I wanted to be a novelist. I wanted to be a writer. I had spent all my then short adult life studying literature and what interested me was… well, how he wrote exactly, where he saw the novel going, how he turned a phrase this way and then that, how many drafts it took him to perfect his cadences, when he thought euphony was too much, when to deploy harshness, why did he neglect plot and character, what about when style wasn’t enough, what he thought of his literary opposites such as JM Coetzee, how many distinct skills did he think the novelist must have – could these be categorised, how many did he think he had – and why did so very few authors ever manage a masterpiece?

Writers are – or should be – the most perceptive people it is possible to encounter. And he was ever the most perceptive of the tribe. So, of course, he saw through me from the moment he first saw me at all. But he recognised, too, that there was no guile on my part: I was (and I still am) obsessed by these questions. And my somewhat ingenuous enquiries therefore had the virtue of putting him more at ease. He was relieved to talk shop. He was relieved that we were not, as he said, shovelling more shit on the mighty shit-mountain. Later, of course, to become the near-unscalable shit-massif that all but enclosed him.

Towards the end of the hour, in a desultory way – and feeling that I’d better go through the motions – I asked him about why he thought he was getting so vehemently attacked. This was before social media, when pile-ons were weekly rather than hourly and almost cordially elliptical by comparison. (Imagine Twitter bothering with the cost of his dentistry.) He said that he thought part of it was to do with the medium (for him everything, in the end, was to do with the medium) – which is to say that because journalists and gossip columnists used the same basic art form as novelists – writing – they therefore felt more entitled to have a go. A bit like, he noted, how everyone can kick a ball and thus everyone has a view on exactly how England’s leading striker should play or why he flunked that penalty when it really mattered.

The hour soon was over. I felt I’d soured the end of our conversation by panic-asking about his “celebrity”. But, on the way out, he enquired after how my manuscript submissions were going. I said that I’d had a close one – this was the second “first” novel I had written – but that I’d recently had the final “no” from the publisher I thought most likely to say “yes”.

Writing and the language itself meant everything to me then. It still does. And so, I must have evinced some kind of involuntary rawness about the recent rejection as we stood there in the hall. Maybe it felt extra-deflating after the conversation we had been having. Now I wonder if I didn’t think madly that I had somehow let him down. I don’t know. What happened in the physical world is that I just stopped moving for a second and then awkwardly half-offered him Experience to sign. He sensed something deeper than embarrassment and likewise stopped. And then he said, oh, in that case, leave all your stuff here and come and have a beer on the roof and we’ll have a proper conversation.

And that was it. He went and got two bottles and I followed him up through the house and we sat up on his roof garden for the next few hours and we really got down to “it”. And by “it”, I mean everything you can possibly imagine discussing in relation to the central question of which of the novelists and poets had the ability to render the human experience on the page in a manner that was resonant to other people, offered real readerly pleasures and yet was truthful and enduring? And what could we learn from them? Most generously of all, for the purposes of this conversation, he counted himself a student alongside me. Not in a phoney way and not to show off – he was way past that – but because he himself was greatly animated and compelled by these questions. By the end (a few bottles later) we were deep in a near line-by-line discussion (from memory on his part) of the sophistication of Jane Austen’s emotional choreography in the first assembly scene in Pride and Prejudice when Mary Bennet sings and Elizabeth despairs of her family.

He was astonishingly generous. He was astonishingly encouraging. Most of all, he was astonishingly intelligent. Lots of people are intelligent – and lots of species of intelligence are tedious – but Amis’s mind worked in a way that continually outflanked and astounded any thinking you were doing in parallel or response. There was the huge on-board library resource, of course, and he quoted paragraphs and verses at will – Conrad, Waugh, Austen, Larkin, Auden, George Eliot, Donne, endless Shakespeare, his father, Bellow, Nabokov – but, again, lots of people know things and that, too, can become a peculiar form of dullness. No, what was astonishing was the unexpected connections that his mind conjured – each next thought in a sequence of conversation would have been unimaginable beforehand and yet made a miraculous chain of self-evident understanding afterwards. And all of this he was able to articulate with a breathtaking precision.

There’s a great line in Experience where Amis writes about his father: “I wasn’t making the elementary error of conflating the man and the work, but all writers know that the truth is in the fiction. That’s where the spiritual thermometer gives its reading.” There isn’t space to go into all the brilliances (or failings) of Amis’s work here. And there are as many ways to write a great novel as there are great novelists. Coetzee or Hilary Mantel or Toni Morrison or, for that matter, Cervantes: they’re all going to teach you completely different lessons. Unlike Martin (or unlike he sometimes pretended), I am interested in all the different ways to do it – yes, even, as he would describe them, the clear-as-a-mountain-creek-merchants. And, for what it’s worth, I think there is a rebarbative sneer that occasionally corrodes his texts from the inside so that the surface brilliance tarnishes and rusts, becomes brittle. But for now, I want to read the spiritual thermometer the other way round – from man to work – because I think that the personal generosity that he displayed that day to me (and there are many others who experienced this) is also there in the writing. Not in the narrow sense of what he’s writing about – or who, or where – but in the sense of how he is writing.

So, by way of unpacking for the newly Amis-curious what pleasure his best work brings to those who admire it, here are three great generosities that are as alive in the style as they were in the man.

The first is to do with straightforward abundance. There’s a ravishing luxuriousness to all his writing. You get to revel and recline in the great opulent apparel of our language as if it were yours to drape yourself in all along. Which, of course, it is. In this way, he generously returns to you what you feel you have lost by hair-shirting your way through other writers of various pinch, beef and earnest. You feel more subtle in his company, you feel your own vocabulary expand, your sensibility for words is reconjured, your vow of love for the English language is remade; in the moment of reading his best work, you feel richer.

The second is to do with his scrupulousness and precision. Leaving aside macro concerns, you can as a reader always rest assured that there is no other British prose writer who has taken quite so much care over the word-by-word selection that goes into making a sentence. His status as a novelist is mercurial but his paragraphs are still the best in recent English. Most of this hand-to-hand stuff is intuitive for him (as was apparent when he spoke), but he also checked and double checked and read and reread his work until its sound and rhythm and timbre was (as he felt it) perfect. For many readers this assiduousness is strangely relaxing. Relaxing because you know you can trust him; because you never have the feeling of being let down on the sentence level by a cliché, or a repetition, or some other infelicity that breaks the all-important spell of authorial command.

The third generosity is to do with exuberance – an intoxicating joy, a pleasure, a live kinetic vitality that lives word to word in his work. As your author-guide, he is forever delighting you with unexpected phrase-making, with freshness, with ingenuity, with invention and ingeniousness. In his other masterpiece, Money (1984), you laugh, you gasp, you shake your head, you rush towards the next sentence at the same time as you back up to marvel at the last. Think again about the meaning of this word, he seems to urge the reader, and then look at this word next to that word. I never wholly bought his Nabokovian style-is-morality schtick. But I do believe that his work is existentially incandescent only because it is stylistically incandescent.

This last quality – of exuberance and spirit; the incandescent style – is more in the tradition of the poets than the novelists; it is also much more in the tradition of the 18th century – Tobias Smollett, Henry Fielding and the gang – than the writers he is often compared to – Evelyn Waugh and PG Wodehouse. If you combine these thoughts, the figure who comes to mind is the great 18th-century poet Alexander Pope. And, indeed, I have always thought that Amis has a great deal in common with Pope’s sensibility. The way Pope is a flat-out genius with words and in such Bach-like musical control; the way he is unsurpassable as a compassionate-but-mighty-and-scathing satirist; the way he is unable to write about matters of the heart organically; the way he is endlessly funny and arch and sly and collusive and playful; most of all, the way he loves and takes care of his readers. From the opening of Pope’s “An Essay on Man”:

Let us (since life can little more supply 
Than just to look about us and to die) 
Expatiate free o’er all this scene of man; 
A mighty maze! but not without a plan; 
A wild, where weeds and flow’rs promiscuous shoot; 
Or garden, tempting with forbidden fruit. 
Together let us beat this ample field, 
Try what the open, what the covert yield; 
The latent tracts, the giddy heights explore 
Of all who blindly creep, or sightless soar; 
Eye Nature’s walks, shoot folly as it flies, 
And catch the manners living as they rise; 
Laugh where we must, be candid where we can…

Martin would love that invitational “Together let us…” and the way all those different meanings are simultaneously alive in the single line as it runs – beckoning us – forward: “Together let us beat this ample field.” Come on in. Come on in.

Taken altogether these three qualities represent what, I think, is at the heart of Amis’s work: a delighted, forensic, monumental and epic commitment to language itself. That’s the quiddity. That’s the core reason so many writers and journalists enjoy reading him. And that’s the reason I don’t think the distinction between the non-fiction and the fiction holds. Because all his writing is like that. Sure, the non-fiction feels more anchored because of its ostensible subject. And, yes, the bad fiction feels worse than it is because its subject is so obviously ostensible. But really the subject in either case was not the subject; the true subject was always the language – its meaning and its music. And – about this – Amis is never anything other than serious, devout, sincere, interesting, sublime.

On the way out the second time, I was fixed. I picked up Experience again from the side table and this time boldly asked him to sign it. I’m chary of overstatement and – thinking about that day – I’m still not sure if this is a failing or a virtue. But in those few hours, he restored my faith. Writing fiction, publishing, editing, magazines, poetry – they’re all such fragile businesses and yet he was absolutely certain that they mattered, that their power was not only purposeful but transcendent. I soon began again on another novel. And this – my “third”, the next thing I wrote – became my debut.

It wasn’t until a couple of days later, though, that I opened up Experience. Only then did I read what he had written. “To Ed, keep going, Martin Amis.” Such a kind and generous thing to say. The same thing he had been saying to me all afternoon. I have the inscription in front of me now.

the pinefox, Monday, 5 June 2023 16:41 (three days ago) link

That seems tl;dr. Should I actually r it?

The Original Human Beat Surrender (James Redd and the Blecchs), Monday, 5 June 2023 16:53 (three days ago) link

Anybody here
Seen my old friend Martin?

The Original Human Beat Surrender (James Redd and the Blecchs), Monday, 5 June 2023 17:01 (three days ago) link

That seems tl;dr. Should I actually r it?

It was the most interesting such thing posted in this thread IMO.

but also fuck you (unperson), Monday, 5 June 2023 17:09 (three days ago) link

yeah it was a very nice read, thanks for sharing it the pinefox

ꙮ (map), Monday, 5 June 2023 18:19 (three days ago) link

What I remember of The Line of Beauty is that its characters often saunter (along pavements) or dart (into and out of rooms) and occasionally linger (over light lunches): all things I think that would have boiled the piss of Martin Amis in the 80s.

fetter, Monday, 5 June 2023 19:07 (three days ago) link

For all the talk about keeping the dictionary open at all times, meticulously crafted sentences, etc., etc. I find myself as a writer responding much more to Elmore Leonard's famous 10 rules:

1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said"…he admonished gravely.
5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
6. Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

but also fuck you (unperson), Monday, 5 June 2023 19:19 (three days ago) link

That piece is something: Martin Amis had THREE layers of generosity?! Come on, now..

xyzzzz__, Monday, 5 June 2023 19:52 (three days ago) link

Cheese, guava, almonds

the dreaded dependent claus (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 5 June 2023 20:07 (three days ago) link

fwiw I'll buy that Amis was probably a nicer guy in person than he came across as (and made strenuous efforts to come across as). Who could be like that full time in public and private? Only truly rarefied titans of misanthropy like Ginger Baker can pull that off

Toploader on the road, unite and take over (Bananaman Begins), Tuesday, 6 June 2023 08:22 (two days ago) link

No comparison to Pope. Pope was a foot shorter.

Nice piece. 'Devout' is well-chosen. A more generous way to look at the canon-hugging and status anxiety and the effortfulness of his weaker prose.

woof, Tuesday, 6 June 2023 09:47 (two days ago) link

Lol at Ginger Baker comparison.

CeeLô Borges (James Redd and the Blecchs), Tuesday, 6 June 2023 11:36 (two days ago) link

did he become a nicer person with the new fangs or

the dreaded dependent claus (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 6 June 2023 11:38 (two days ago) link


CeeLô Borges (James Redd and the Blecchs), Tuesday, 6 June 2023 12:15 (two days ago) link

Another hack tribute. This one was so desperate to get his tribute in he got it published in Norwegian

Here’s my tribute to Martin Amis 1949-2023 for @Vinduet touching on his influential style and unorthodox way of writing fiction (in Norwegian for now but some things transcend national and linguistic boundaries)

— Leo Robson (@leorobsonwriter) June 6, 2023

xyzzzz__, Tuesday, 6 June 2023 18:59 (two days ago) link

Fixed teeth transcend national and linguistic boundaries.

the dreaded dependent claus (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 6 June 2023 19:07 (two days ago) link

Picked up Nabokov's 'Speak, Memory', as it seems a little bit like Amis' Experience. Nabokov writes about his father a lot, though by no means exclusively so. Feels like -- both in The New Statesman piece above and the John Self piece where he talked it as the book for people who hate Amis -- that Experience could be the book that lasts as the white, Oxbridge-educated, middle-class hacks who cared to pay a tribute have been trying to sell it a bit more than some of his later novels, say.

Reading the Nabokov I could see why. Both were prickly, nasty people, who grew up well, but in these memoirs they write about things you are not going to be that nasty about. Get quite jaded about that attitude. Can't you be tender about people you made up?

xyzzzz__, Thursday, 8 June 2023 10:45 (one hour ago) link

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