Martin Amis
⦿ Elena Seibert
Martin Amis: "I was horrified that Trump got in .. This election is going to be a referendum on the American character."

Inside Story

By Emma Brockes
The Guardian, 12 September 2020

Edited by Andy Ross

The new novel Inside Story by Martin Amis combines elements of memoir with fiction. It revisits his familiar obsessions — Christopher Hitchens, Kingsley Amis, Philip Larkin, Vladimir Nabokov, and Saul Bellow. A fictionalised version of his wife Isabel Fonseca tells him repeatedly: "I can't believe you're still going on about that."

At 71, Amis remains highly entertaining. Inside Story has a few gimmicky elements, but it is a different beast to his other novels. We find the author wondering what his game has been: "What is the good of the novel?"

Amis is brilliant on Kingsley and Larkin's friendship, on his stepmother Elizabeth Jane Howard, and on poetry. The conversations with Hitchens in the 1970s are self-indulgent scenes that serve no greater purpose than to remember his friend.

He first tried to write this book 10 years ago and it didn't work. "It was so leaden. It had no life. I wasted something like 18 months, then I forced myself to read it through, and it was dead as a doornail .. I just put it aside and wrote another novel that came quite easily."

Like most people, his experience of lockdown has been variable. "I used to wake up and a mixture of greed and curiosity would get me out of bed. Now I wake up and .. think about what Michelle Obama said about how we're all in a low-level depression .. I've been finding it very difficult to work in a regular way."

When Amis is able to work these days, he is writing a short story about lynching. Thirty years ago, he got into trouble for a female character in his novel London Fields. There's no reason why a man can't write as a woman, or a white person as a black person, but when it's done badly the failure of imagination frequently extends into the politics of privilege.

There was no professional envy between Amis and Hitch, but Martin felt jealousy. When Hitch went off with a new BFF, Alexander Cockburn, Martin was as crushed as if he'd been stood up by a date: "I didn't feel romantic about Hitch, but possessive, yes. And hurt. Sorry for myself. He felt much more romantic about me."

Inside Story

By Tim Adams
The Guardian, 13 September 2020

Edited by Andy Ross

Martin Amis confesses he had a go at this book more than a decade ago. But when he read through the 100,000 words of that manuscript, and then sat on a beach in Uruguay, he thought he was finished, washed up. He abandoned it. That first death is here set against the storied endings of Philip Larkin, Saul Bellow, and Christopher Hitchens.

Amis feels the need to start back in the 1970s with an account of a relationship that sails around the comic voice he has employed several times in his writing career. Much of what follows reads as the second instalment of his millennial memoir Experience.

This book also wants to tell you how to write novels. Every so often, Amis inserts pages of asides on the differences between plot and story, or the superiority of the dash to the semicolon, or the rhythm of paragraphs.

Amis writes with a brilliant observational gift for ironies and an elevated melodrama that stands in for a fuller range of emotion. Perfectly crafted scenes capture the creeping shocks of mortality, bookended with mannered, self-absorbed reflections on the Holocaust, or the state of Israel, or the fall of the twin towers, or hangovers, or full stops.

Inside Story

By Thomas Meaney
New Statesman, September 2020

Edited by Andy Ross

Martin Amis ran farther than his peers toward American rhythms. He was untouched by the political passions of the late 1960s. His small rebellions against middle-class mores only made him seem at times like a prim society hostess.

Amis is drawn to figures with burning political commitments buried in their pasts. But instead of merely occupying himself with the trusted liberal beat of policing the divide between literature and politics, he has repeatedly marched into hearts of darkness.

Martin gives us cameos of Hitch across the decades: "Everything he said was equivocal. Flippant and heartfelt, ironic and serious, whimsical and steely. Even his self-mythologising was also part of a project of self-deflation."

The chief problem with this revivification of Hitchens is the lurking sense that something is missing. Amis: "My friendship with the Hitch has always been perfectly cloudless. It is a love whose month is ever May."

Politically, Hitchens was capable of simulating dialectical thought, where Amis is Manichean and aesthetic. Amis has morphed from an enfant terrible into a Beefeater guard of grammar.

Inside Story

By Alex Clark
The Guardian, 19 September 2020

Edited by Andy Ross

Inside Story is a partial autobiography that describes itself as a novel built on the ruins of an abandoned project.

Amis details the loss of his best friend Christopher Hitchens and of his next best friend Saul Bellow. He apprehends both men as gigantic forces of nature and intellect and himself as the chronicler of their decline and separation from the world. The result is a piece of survivor literature, with all the ensuing guilt, sorrow, confusion, and relief at continued existence. In it, Amis is grumpy about getting older but regards humour as essential. It is tonally all over the place.

The story of the woman named Phoebe Phelps is a gauntlet thrown down to the reader. Amis is joyously objectifying this oddball beauty who is stringing him along with her perfect body, capricious appetites, and mysterious self-sufficiency. Then she is a little girl, sexually abused by the family priest, pimped by her father, emotionally abandoned by her mother, then a porn model, an escort, a madam in a business suit. And so on. All this nonsense functions as a sort of tonal bridge between the capers of youthful Mart and the Hitch in Soho and the losses of later life.

Amis dips out of whatever narrative he is spinning to dispense writerly advice to his younger self. If these sections are intended to be parodic, I liked them very much. If not, I feel entitled to a little more expertise.

Inside Story is odd and sad and funny, a bit too fond of itself, and compelling on grief.

Inside Story

By Janice Turner
The Times, 19 September 2020

Edited by Andy Ross

The Big Book of Little Keith contains the sum total of the writer at 71: the girls he screwed, the men he loved, his writing tips, his erudition, and quirky footnotes. This is really a book about sex and death.

Amis loves to rank chicks. The Hitch, he wants you to know, got less action, apart from Anna Wintour, his only enviable girlfriend. Whereas Mart's chicks were both legion and 24 carat, including Tina Brown and his second wife, Isabel Fonseca.

His mother Hilly was a babe. Pondering whether she had an affair with Philip Larkin, making the poet his father, Amis notes she was far above his usual totty grade.

Phoebe Phelps, the girlfriend who flits through the book, is an erotic Olympian with an anime porn figure whose mysterious wealth turns out to be from prostitution. You wonder if she is based on real girlfriends or an elaborate Amis tease.

All this unreconstructed, unapologetic masculinity is somehow amusingly retro and bracing in our cautious age. Amis notes that Saul Bellow had five wives and four children and Norman Mailer six and nine, while Amis has two and five.

It is the men here who are truly loved and lost. Elizabeth Jane Howard, the acclaimed novelist and the stepmother who rescued his ruined education, made him a writer, and was a lifelong confidante, is merely an addendum.

Amis muses on the waning force of ageing writers and concludes he has no more significant work left in him. Death is in his thoughts like an unwanted song.

Inside Story

By Parul Sehgal
The New York Times, October 20, 2020

Edited by Andy Ross

About 20 years ago, Martin Amis received a letter from an ex-girlfriend. His father, she claimed, was not Kingsley Amis but Philip Larkin. From this mystery sprouts the tangled narrative of Inside Story.

The book is a "novelized autobiography" — an unstable compound of fact and fiction. The ex — whom he describes as an amalgam of women he's known — is flagrantly untrustworthy. The true story slides into view, of the deaths of three writers: a poet (Larkin), a novelist (Saul Bellow), and an essayist (Christopher Hitchens).

Amis feels a bit like a beloved vice these days. As a critic, he remains strong and original. His memoir is a model of the form. The trilogy Money, London Fields, and The Information will last. But there are others.

Inside Story is rife with dreams, sex fantasies, and meandering meditations on Jewishness. The book is an orgy of inconsistencies and inexplicable technical choices. It also includes some of his best writing to date.

Amis moves into a fresh register on Hitchens. He accesses a depth of feeling and a plainness of language entirely new to his work. He marvels at his friend's ability to face death with courage. Martin Amis has retained the power to surprise.

Inside Story

By Noah Kumin
Tablet, February 12, 2021

Edited by Andy Ross

Inside Story is a short novel about an affair with a woman, plus several longish essays about Saul Bellow, Philip Larkin, and Christopher Hitchens — intermixed with workmanlike advice on the craft of writing. As an attempt to weave together these threads, the book is not a success.

On Bellow, Amis is sad and reverent. On Larkin, he is cool toward the man, warm toward the poet. On Hitchens, he is a paragon of loving friendship. Amis: "Life is artistically lifeless, and its only unifying theme is death."

In the romance storyline, a writer named Martin Amis, walking through London, notices an attractive woman and sputters some words in her general direction. She accepts a date, although she tells him he should not get his hopes up. But he does.

It ends in madness and squalor. His technique is to ratchet up the ugliness until, like a fire that consumes every last flammable object, all that remains is parched earth and pathos.

Other material feels as though it has been jammed together by brute force. His answer to the question of how to write: "This is literature's dewy little secret. Its energy is the energy of love."

How to write: Always assume the reader is as busy as you are, with no time for complicated opening pages or literary puzzles. Hook the reader, no overly complex syntax, use line breaks liberally, no secondhand phrases, be original, see things with a poet's eye.

An imaginative writer is someone who is willing and able to investigate himself as a whole. That is literary truth. Amis: "Writers must be like saints."

AR I found Inside Story readable and often impressive, but also irritatingly uneven — a fitting capstone for a remarkable career.

More on and by Martin Amis


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