Martin Amis Essay - Amis, Martin (Vol. 9)

Amis, Martin (Vol. 9)

Amis, Martin 1949–

An English comic novelist and critic, Amis is the son of the novelist Kingsley Amis. Dead Babies is his second novel. (See also CLC, Vol. 4, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 65-68.)

[Amis] displays in [The Rachel Papers] a gift for satirizing the mock-heroic by speaking directly to the reader in the voice of his own character.

This spunky little spoof may turn out to have cul-de-sacs at the end of some of its "verbal avenues," and it may have more than a touch of the vacuous nausea of post-adolescence. But it does have a certain "pimply lyricism," as Charles Highway would smirk—a lyricism that just might win Martin Amis a letter from that other classic latter-dayyouth, Holden Caulfield. (p. 26)

Susan Heath, in Saturday Review/World (copyright 1974 by Saturday Review/World, Inc.; reprinted with permission), June 1, 1974.

Mr Amis discloses his hand at the outset [of Dead Babies], winding up [his] violent caricatures and setting them into frenetic supercharged motion; and though there is a plot of a kind,… the whirling elements of the book aren't going anywhere, and the impression is static. The only shading in the picture is the bad trips, the "street sadness", the "false memory." It's a high-pitched aaargh of a book, a moment of climax seized and stretched and then suddenly stopped: all fff and no ppp.

Mr Amis achieves his effects by a kind of literary tachisme, splattering the page with physical and visceral epithets in a furiously excremental manner. It's catching: the reader falls into the mood, and though the cruelties and sexual horrors and bad language quickly become monotonous, momentum and interest are sustained through what is a relatively short book by the author's energy and exhilaration. The success of the novel lies partly in the way this method can bring off [a] … hideously comic [characterisation] and partly in the simple fact of its violently aggressive high spirits. With so much wilting, anaemic writing about, it's good to have a little mayhem. (p. 68)

James Price, in Encounter (© 1976 by Encounter Ltd.), February, 1976.

"Dead Babies" is … about the nature of civilization, and the world it portrays is quite extraordinarily repulsive, as one might guess from his title. This is not a book for the squeamish. It aims to shock and disgust, and it certainly succeeds. Set in the near future, it describes the weekend amusements of a group of frightful folk, gathered together in a countryhouse: sex, drugs, drink and violence entertain the party, and there is a great deal of very bad language thrown in for good measure. The most repulsive character is a small fat person called Keith, whose physical characteristics and activities are described in such horrific detail that I, for one, would never have finished the book, save in the course of duty. But having dutifully reached the end, I must admit that the reader is obliged to ask himself what it was all about, and the only conclusion can be that Amis is so horrified by the world he sees in the process of formation that he feels compelled to warn us all about it.

In other words, this is a satiric book, written by a puritan, who, like that other satirist Swift, is deeply repelled by the normal functions of the human body, as well as by its more abnormal ones. Does it work, as a satire? On balance, it is probably too extreme, and its targets both too many and not sufficiently serious…. It also tends to be violently monotonous, as well as undiscriminating. Moreover, it is not at all funny. Its characters are so uniformly unpleasant that they are hard to distinguish, and the only one for whom one can feel any sympathy is a man who has a problem about teeth. And a nice, manageable. friendly little problem it seems, in comparison with what the others suffer from. It must be said that this book in its way is memorable. One might want to forget it, but it won't be easy. (p. 3)

Jerome Charyn, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1976 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 8, 1976.