Saturday, January 4, 2014

Martin Amis on His Writing Career, the British Literary Scene, and His Father Kingsley (2000)

Martin Louis Amis (25 August 1949) is a British novelist. His best-known novels are Money (1984) and London Fields (1989). He has received the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his memoir Experience and has been listed for the Booker Prize twice to date (shortlisted in 1991 for Time's Arrow and longlisted in 2003 for Yellow Dog). Amis served as the Professor of Creative Writing at the Centre for New Writing at the University of Manchester until 2011. The Times named him in 2008 as one of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945.



Amis's work centers around the apparent excesses of late-capitalist Western society, whose perceived absurdity he often satirizes through grotesque caricature; he has been portrayed as a master of what the New York Times called "the new unpleasantness." Inspired by Saul Bellow, Vladimir Nabokov, and James Joyce, as well as by his father Kingsley Amis, Amis himself went on to heavily influence many successful British novelists of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, including Will Self and Zadie Smith.

Amis was born in Swansea, South Wales. His father, Sir Kingsley Amis, was the son of a mustard manufacturer's clerk from Clapham, London; his mother, Hilary "Hilly" Bardwell, was the daughter of a Ministry of Agriculture civil servant. He has an older brother, Philip, and his younger sister, Sally, died in 2000. His parents divorced when he was twelve.

He attended a number of schools in the 1950s and 1960s—including the Bishop Gore School (Swansea Grammar School), and Cambridgeshire High School for Boys—where he was described by one headmaster as "unusually unpromising." The acclaim that followed his father's first novel Lucky Jim sent the family to Princeton, New Jersey, where his father lectured.

In 1965, at age 15, he played John Thornton in the film version of Richard Hughes' A High Wind in Jamaica.



He read nothing but comic books until his stepmother, the novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard, introduced him to Jane Austen, whom he often names as his earliest influence. After teenage years spent in flowery shirts and a short spell at Westminster School while living in Hampstead, he graduated from Exeter College, Oxford, with a "Congratulatory" First in English — "the sort where you are called in for a viva and the examiners tell you how much they enjoyed reading your papers."

After Oxford, he found an entry-level job at The Times Literary Supplement, and at age 27 became literary editor of the New Statesman, where he met Christopher Hitchens, then a feature writer for The Observer, who remained a close friend until Hitchens's death in 2011.

At 5'4" tall he referred to himself as a 'short-arse' while a teenager. The bitterness in his books, as well as his much-publicized philandering, has been attributed to a Napoleonic complex.

According to Martin, Kingsley Amis famously showed no interest in his son's work. "I can point out the exact place where he stopped and sent Money twirling through the air; that's where the character named Martin Amis comes in." "Breaking the rules, buggering about with the reader, drawing attention to himself," Kingsley complained.

His first novel The Rachel Papers (1973) won the Somerset Maugham Award. The most traditional of his novels, made into an unsuccessful cult film, it tells the story of a bright, egotistical teenager (which Amis acknowledges as autobiographical) and his relationship with the eponymous girlfriend in the year before going to university.

He also wrote the screenplay for the film Saturn 3, an experience which he was to draw on for his fifth novel Money.

Dead Babies (1975), more flippant in tone, chronicles a few days in the lives of some friends who convene in a country house to take drugs. A number of Amis's characteristics show up here for the first time: mordant black humour, obsession with the zeitgeist, authorial intervention, a character subjected to sadistically humorous misfortunes and humiliations, and a defiant casualness ("my attitude has been, I don't know much about science, but I know what I like"). A film adaptation was made in 2000.

Success (1977) told the story of two foster-brothers, Gregory Riding and Terry Service, and their rising and falling fortunes. This was the first example of Amis's fondness for symbolically "pairing" characters in his novels, which has been a recurrent feature in his fiction since (Martin Amis and Martina Twain in Money, Richard Tull and Gwyn Barry in The Information, and Jennifer Rockwell and Mike Hoolihan in Night Train).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Amis


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