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Martin Amis

Martin Amis is the author of four novels, the most recent of which is Other People, and of Invasion of the Space Invaders, a guide to video games, which will be published in June. He was formerly literary editor of the New Statesman. An interview with Saul Bellow – in conversation with Melvyn Bragg, and on the subject of The Dean’s December – will appear in a subsequent issue.

Return of the Male

Martin Amis, 5 December 1991

In 1919, after prolonged study, the Harvard ethologist William Morton Wheeler pronounced the male wasp ‘an etiological nonentity’. An animal behaviourist had scrutinised the male wasp and found – no behaviour. We can well imagine the male wasp’s response to such a verdict: his initial shock and hurt; his descent into a period of depressed introspection; his eventual decision to improve his act. For nowadays, according to a recent Scientific American, ‘interest in the long-neglected male is flourishing, a tribute to the animal’s broad array of activities.’ Male humans will surely feel for their brothers in the wasp kingdom. After a phase of relative obscurity, we too have rallied. In fact, we seem to have bounced back pretty well immediately, with all kinds of fresh claims on everyone’s attention. Male wounds. Male rights. Male grandeur. Male whimpers of neglect.’

Bujak? Yeah, I knew him. The whole street knew Bujak. I knew him before and I knew him after. We all knew Bujak – sixty years old, hugely slabbed and seized with muscle and tendon, smiling at a bonfire in the yard, carrying desks and sofas on his back, lifting a tea-chest full of books with one hand. Bujak, the strongman. He was also a dreamer, a reader, a babbler … You slept a lot sounder knowing that Bujak was on your street. This was 1980. I was living in London, West London, carnival country, what the police there call the front line. Dr Alimantado, Sons of Thunder, Race War, No Future: dry thatched dreadlocks, the scarred girls in the steeped pubs. Those black guys, they talked like combative drunks, all the time. If I went up to Manchester to stay with my girlfriend, I always left a key with Bujak. Those hands of his, as hard as coal, the nails quite square and symmetrical, like his teeth. And the forearms, the Popeye forearms, hefty and tattoo-smudged and brutal, weapons of monstrous power. Large as he was, the energies seemed impacted in him, as though he were the essence of an even bigger man; he stood for solidity. I am as tall as Bujak, but half his weight. No, less. Bujak once told me that to create a man out of nothing would require the equivalent energy of a thousand-megaton explosion. Looking at Bujak, you could believe this. As for me, well, a single stick of TNT might do the job – a hand-grenade, a firecracker. In his physical dealings with me (you know, the way someone moves across a room toward you, this can be a physical event) he showed the tender condescension that the big man shows to the small. Probably he was like that with everyone. He was protective. And then, to good Bujak, thoughtful, grinning Bujak, the worst thing happened. A personal holocaust. In the days that followed I saw and felt all of Bujak’s violence.’

The Moronic Inferno

Martin Amis, 1 April 1982

Iggy Blaikie, Kayo Obermark, Sam Zincowicz, Kotzie Kreindl, Clara Spohr, Teodoro Valdepenas, Clem Tambow, Rinaldo Cantabile, Tennie Pontritter, Lucas Asphalter, Murray Verviger, Wharton Horricker … The way a writer names his characters provides a good index to the way he sees the world – to his reality-level, his responsiveness to the accidental humour and freakish poetry of life. Thomas Pynchon uses names like Oedipa Maas and Pig Bodine (where the effect is slangy, jivey, cartoonish); at the other end of the scale, John Braine offers us Tom Metfield, Jack Royston, Jane Framsby (can these people really exist, in our minds or anywhere else, with such leadenly humdrum, such dead names?). Saul Bellow’s inventions are Dickensian in their resonance and relish. But they also have a dialectical point to make.

Football Mad

Martin Amis, 3 December 1981

Readers of the London Review of Books who like football probably like football so much that, having begun the present article, they will be obliged to finish it. This suits me down to the ground. Intellectual football-lovers are a beleaguered crew, despised by intellectuals and football-lovers alike, who regard our addiction as affected, pseudo-proletarian, even faintly homosexual. We have adapted to this; we keep ourselves to ourselves – oh, how we have to cringe and hide! If I still have your attention, then I assume you must be one of us, pining for social acceptance and for enlightened discussion of the noble game. This puts me in the happy position of not really caring what I write. You will read me anyway. Ho-hum. If I could render a whistle on the page (a strolling, nonchalant whistle, hands in pockets, head held high), then that is what I would render … But let’s talk football for a while.

In Praise of Pritchett

Martin Amis, 22 May 1980

V.S. Pritchett’s short stories are retrospective, provincial, formless and feminine. His is an art that does not care how peripheral it sometimes seems. There are no twists, payoffs, reverses, jackpots or epiphanies. Pritchett never rubs life up the wrong way, and is happy to leave only a faint shine on its fur. He uses the forms and addresses of minor art, yet there is no one quite like him – no one alive or male, anyway. ‘He is proof,’ Frank Kermode has argued, ‘that an older tradition could survive the importunities of the modernist Twenties and stay modern, respond finely to the world as it is.’ I am not sure how true this is, or in what ways it might turn out to be true: but it is clearly the central critical question posed by Pritchett’s quietly extraordinary way of looking at life. Of course, the answer to this question may in the end not be very relevant or even interesting, assuming as it must do that an art of such freakish fragility is pierceable by criticism in the first place.

Joan Didion’s Style

Martin Amis, 7 February 1980

Joan Didion is the poet of the Great Californian Emptiness. She sings of a land where it is easier to Dial-A-Devotion than to buy a book, where the freeway sniper feels ‘real bad’ about picking off a family of five, where kids in High Kindergarten are given LSD and peyote by their parents, where young hustlers get lethally carried away while rolling elderly film-stars, where six-foot-two drag queens shop for fishnet bikinis, where a 26-year-old woman can consign her five-year-old daughter to the centre divider of Interstate 5: when her fingers were prised loose from the fence 12 hours later, the child pointed out that she had run after the car containing her family for ‘a long time’.

Amis in Auschwitz

Michael Hofmann, 22 October 2014

Nothing finally preponderates, no sensation remains, no vision, no synthesis, no understanding.

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Amis Resigns

Adam Mars-Jones, 21 June 2012

To rate his achievement at its least, Martin Amis has been for 25 years the By Appointment purveyor of classic sentences to his generation.

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Martin Amis

Jenny Turner, 22 April 2010

My feelings about Martin Amis are complicated, as is surely only proper. His latest novel is odd and discontinuous and in the end incoherent, with much stopping and starting, and echoing of...

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What’s got into Martin Amis?

Daniel Soar, 4 January 2007

Martin Amis’s newest book, House of Meetings, is a short novel that purportedly describes conditions inside a Soviet forced labour camp. A sick and malingering prisoner is confined to an...

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Amis Recycled

Christopher Tayler, 11 September 2003

Reviewing a new edition of Ulysses in 1986, Martin Amis had a few reservations about the book’s popularity with scholarly intermediaries. James Joyce, he concluded, ‘could have been...

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Amis’s Terrible News

Frank Kermode, 17 October 2002

This book is primarily the product of some fiercely hard reading, a reaction to the shock of finding something out from books. It has some directly autobiographical elements – a letter to...

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The main title of this collection may at first seem wantonly non-descriptive, but it turns out to be exact. The first thing to see to if you want to write well is to avoid doing bad writing, used...

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Martin Amis

John Lanchester, 6 July 2000

In the middle of the current memoir boom it is easy to forget that the novelist’s memoir is a distinct and recent genre. There are, it goes without saying, any number of first-rate writers...

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Cloud Cover

Adam Phillips, 16 October 1997

For three words once, in 1987, Martin Amis sounded like D.H. Lawrence. ‘Art celebrates life,’ he wrote in his keenly anti-nuclear Introduction to Einstein’s Monsters, and then...

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Satisfaction

Julian Loose, 11 May 1995

Clearly, for Martin Amis, enough is nothing like enough. To read him is to discover an author as voracious as his characters: like Terry in Success, who specifies that ‘I want all that and...

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In reverse

Frank Kermode, 12 September 1991

A story can be told in almost any order except backwards. Gérard Genette’s impressive catalogue of ‘anachronies’, of all the ways you can destabilise or re-order narrative...

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Darts for art’s sake

Julian Symons, 28 September 1989

Nuclear weapons, by their very existence, ‘distort all life and subvert all freedoms’, and even thinking or reading about them for too long may induce ‘nausea, clinical...

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As a returning lord

John Lanchester, 7 May 1987

This comes from ‘Thinkability’, the introduction to Einstein’s Monsters, and is, in a way, a typical Martin Amis paragraph: Every morning, six days a week, I leave the house...

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J’Accuzi

Frank Kermode, 24 July 1986

Martin Amis begins this collection of ‘left-handed’ (i.e. journalistic) pieces by deploying two standard topoi. The first is the modesty topos, duly described by Curtius, though under...

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Martin and Martina

Ian Hamilton, 20 September 1984

‘Dollar bills, pound notes, they’re suicide notes. Money is a suicide note.’ So says John Self, the hero of Money: A Suicide Note, and what he means is that money is destroying

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Vidkids

Tom Shippey, 30 December 1982

Agonistic, aleatory, vertiginous, mimetic: those are four classes of game, or more accurately four game-elements which can be combined in different ways to create different genres. Mimetic games,...

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Making strange

John Sutherland, 19 March 1981

Since Success, Martin Amis has been involved in a spectacular case of alleged plagiarism. As the apparently aggrieved author, Amis showed himself notably unresentful and unlitigious. Indeed, he...

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