"Boredom and sordor used to be asked to be seean as interesting and beautiful, and you could do it, with your energy. Transformation would occur. It seemed to him that all the time he used spent writing he now spent dying. This was the truth. And it shocked him. It shocked him to see it, naked. Literature wasn't about living. Literature was about not dying." from The Information, 337.
Born in August 25, 1949 in South Wales, just five years before his father would strike a nerve in the literary world with Lucky Jim. Educated at Exeter College, Oxford. At age ten, he and the Amis clan lived in America (Princeton, New Jersey) for a year, then two years later they spent a year in Spain. When Martin was 18, the family lived several months, during the filming of A High Wind in Jamaica, in the West Indies. Martin Amis later took a position, upon graduation, working as an editorial assistant on the Times Literary supplement (when he was 22) and later as literary editor at the New Statesman, where he formed a lifelong friendship with the critic and journalist, Christopher Hitchens. In 1980, he resigned his post and applied himself to writing full-time, soon making friends with Julian Barnes. His writing continued at a furious pace throughout the decade, frequently dwelling on the repercussions of Thatcher’s New Britain and the looming threat of nuclear war.
Moving out of the shadow of his father, Kingsley Amis was always a difficult aspect of Amis’ public persona, but it was also personal. Amis wrote in his autobiography, Experience that "my father, I think, aided by a natural indolence, didn't really take much notice of my early efforts to write until I plonked the proof of my first novel on his desk." Kingsley, to be blunt, had never been terribly kind to his son’s efforts, complaining in public of a "terrible compulsive vividness in his style…It goes back to one of Martin's heroes-- Nabokov. I lay it all at his door--that constant demonstrating of his command of English."
Stylistically, Amis works very consciously in the influential shadows of Saul Bellow, Vladimir Nabokov, James Joyce and J.G. Ballard. Nabokov was the only one of these who enjoyed a serious international literary recognition and commercial success in his own lifetime. Amis seems to have drawn a lesson from this. Much of Amis’ ascending stardom caught his friends and family off-guard, but the sense he had grown ‘beyond London’ came with the 1995 report he had abandoned his long-time literary agent, Pat Kavanaugh, and signed a whopping $500, 000 US advance for his next novel. He got his teeth fixed, which had pained him brutally since adolescence, and left his wife for a younger American lady. He and Julian Barnes had a rather venomous falling out. Amis’ in turn wrote The Information, a semi-autobiographical novel about literary jealousy and betrayal. He now has two sons, Louis, 17, and Jacob, 15, and had expressed publicly every intention of moving to the United States after the two boys had completed their schooling. As of May 13 2000, he was in process of applying for American citizenship.
As for his style, it is cutting but never jagged, almost clinical in its detachment and surgical in its evocative precision:
"The form itself is my enemy. All the damned romance. In fiction (rightly called so), people become coherent and intelligible – and they aren’t like that. We all know they aren’t. We all know it from personal experience. We’ve been there. People? People are chaotic quiddities living in one cave each. They pass the hours in amorous grudge and playback and thought-experiment. At the camp fire they put the usual fraction on exhibit, and listen to their own silent gibber about how they’re feeling and how they’re going down. We’ve been there." from London Fields, p.240.
Or again here,
"The railway station had changed since he had last had call to use it. In the meantime its soot-coated, rentboy-haunted vault of tarry girders and toilet glass had become a flowing atrium of boutiques and croissant stalls and limitless cappuccino. Trains no longer dominated it with their train culture of industrial burdens dumbly and filthily borne. Trains now crept round the back, sorry they were so late, hoping they could still be of use to the proud, strolling, cappuccino-quaffing shoppers of the mall. There was even a brand-new Dickensian pub called the Olde Curiosity Shoppe whose set was dressed with thousands of books – written not by Dickens but by that timeless band of junkshop nobodies…in other words, the station had gone up in the world. And Richard didn’t like it. He wanted everything to stay down in the world – with him. Envy and schadenfreude and invidiousness: they arise from poor character, but also from fear of desertion." from The Information, p. 192.
But finally, and this an important point, the work has a oscillating but tangible morality, behind the gallows humor and wordplay that distinquished him from the likes of Ballard, or Will Self (to whom he’s frequently compared). It is resolutely judgmental writing, which of course, put a lot of readers off, particularly in the midst of the post-modern 1990s. The humor was read as too acerbic, the style too polished, the language too clever, in other words, the writing too rich (or just too good) to be borne in an era of playfulness. Add to this Amis literary lineage, and his take on certain subjects (the Holocaust in Time’s Arrow being the most controversial) as a result were viewed as inappropriately misanthropic and overly dark for the times. But his most recent writing reveals that, to the contrary, his place is rather all too horribly suited to our world:
It was the advent of the second plane, sharking in low over the Statue of Liberty: that was the defining moment…I have never seen a generically familiar object so transformed by effect. That second plane looked eagerly alive, and galvanized with malice, and wholly alien…its glint was the worldflash of a coming future. Terrorism is political communication by other means. The message of September 11 ran as follows: America, it is time you learned how implacably you are hated…Our best destiny, as planetary cohabitants, is the development of what has been called ‘species consciousness’ – something over and above nationalisms, blocs, rebellions, ethnicities. During this week of incredulous misery, I am trying to apply such a consciousness…Thinking of the victims, the perpetrators, and the near future, I felt only species grief, then species shame, then species fear. from “Fear and loathing”, The Guardian, September 18, 2001.
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London: Penguin, 1984; New York: Vintage Books, 1992.
Dead Babies. London: Jonathan Cape, 1975; New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1976; New
York: Penguin, 1984; New York: Harmony Books, 1988; New York: Vintage Books, 1991.
Republished as Dark Secrets, St. Albans: Triad/Panther Books, 1977.
Success. London: Jonathan Cape, 1978; London: Penguin, 1985; New York: Harmony
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Other People: A Mystery Story. London: Jonathan Cape, 1981; New York: Viking,
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Invasion of the Space Invaders. London: Hutchinson, 1982; Millbrae, California:
Celestial Arts, 1982.
Money: A Suicide Note. London: Jonathan Cape, 1984; New York: Viking, 1985; New
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The Moronic Inferno and Other Visits to America. London: Jonathan Cape, 1986;
New York: Viking, 1987; London: Penguin, 1987.
Einstein's Monsters. London: Jonathan Cape, 1987; New York: Harmony Books, 1987;
London: Penguin, 1988; New York: Vintage Books, 1990.
London Fields. London: Jonathan Cape, 1989; New York: Harmony Books, 1989;
London: Penguin, 1990; New York, Vintage Books, 1991.
Time's Arrow, or The Nature of the Offense. London: Jonathan Cape, 1991; New
York: Harmony, 1991; New York: Viking, 1991; London: Penguin, 1992; New York: Vintage
Visiting Mrs. Nabokov and Other Excursions. London: Jonathan Cape, 1993; New
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The Information. London: HarperCollins, 1995; New York: Harmony, 1995; New York:
Vintage Books, 1996.
Night Train. London: Jonathan Cape, 1997. New York: Harmony, 1998.
Heavy Water and Other Stories: Jonathan Cape, 1998. New York: Harmony, 1999.
The war against cliché : essays and reviews, 1971-2000 / Martin Amis. London : Jonathan Cape, 2001.
Experience / Martin Amis. New York : Hyperion, 2000.