Amis, Martin (Vol. 101)
Martin Amis 1949–
(Born Martin Louis Amis) English novelist, critic, short story writer, editor, scriptwriter, and nonfiction writer.
The following entry provides an overview of Amis's career through 1996. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 4, 9, 38, and 62.
Regarded as a groundbreaking novelist, Amis satirizes the scabrous excesses of youth and contemporary society with an irreverent and incisive wit similar to that of his father, author Kingsley Amis. Employing fast-paced prose infused with contemporary slang and profanity, Amis portrays characters who are obsessed with sex, drugs, violence, and materialistic pursuits. Amis—who is commonly known as Britain's enfant terrible—has been the subject of strong debate for the past two decades. He has been lauded as an insightful satirist, but he has been dismissed by many critics as "gratuitously malevolent," according to Susan Morrison. Like such satirists as Jonathan Swift and Angus Wilson, with whom he has been compared, Amis is widely regarded as a moralist whose novels admonish the vices of his age. Jerome Charyn commented: "Amis is so horrified by the world he sees in the process of formation that he feels compelled to warn us all about it."
Born in Oxford, England, Martin Amis is the son of well-known British author Kingsley Amis and Hilary Bardwell Amis. He attended more than thirteen schools while he was growing up in Britain, Spain, and the United States, and underwent a variety of experiences in his formative years. After attending several "crammers"—special tutorials designed to help students prepare for university entrance examinations—Amis accomplished no small feat by attaining a formal first in English at Exeter College, Oxford. He later became a member of the editorial staff at the London Times Literary Supplement. At the age of twenty-four, Amis won the Somerset Maugham Award for his first novel, The Rachel Papers (1974). He became the literary editor of The New Statesman, wrote numerous articles, and produced two more novels: Dead Babies in 1975 and Success in 1978. He followed these achievements with Other People (1981), Money (1984), London Fields (1989), Time's Arrow (1991), and The Information (1995). A collection of essays and a collection of short stories followed while Amis was a staff writer and reviewer for the London Observer. Amis's extensive travels and rich personal experience of metropolitan London life have impacted the major themes in his works: greed, money, sex, alienation, and the human condition.
Amis's first novel, The Rachel Papers, is about a young man's passage from adolescence into adulthood. Charles Highway, the protagonist, is an egocentric English youth who relates his misadventures in graphic and humorous detail on the eve of his twentieth birthday. Dead Babies is a black comedy about a group of deviant youths who gather at a country home for a weekend of sex, drugs, verbal abuse, and physical violence. Success focuses on the relationship between two cohabiting foster brothers, one aristocratic and one working-class, and their comparative degrees of social, economic, and sexual success. The theme of rivalry between two protagonists reemerges in one of Amis's later novels, The Information. Money has been praised as one of Amis's best works. This ambitious novel explores such topics as greed, excess, self-destruction, cultural deprivation, sex, and love—all elements that have become standards in Amis's later work. London Fields, set in 1999 against a backdrop of impending environmental, economic, and military disaster, enlarges upon themes examined in Money and Success. Time's Arrow is about Tod Friendly, an American doctor who becomes progressively younger in Amis's reverse-time narrative. He ends up running a Nazi concentration camp, where he discovers himself to be "death doctor" Odilo Unverdorben. Visiting Mrs. Nabokov (1993) is a collection of sketches and essays detailing Amis's visits with various personalities, including Saul Bellow, John Updike, and Roman Polanski. The Information, Amis's most recent work, employs many of the themes and devices used in earlier works. The two central characters, Richard Tull and Gwynn Barry, compete for literary fame and glory in a rivalry much like the rivalries employed in London Fields and Success. Strongly autobiographical, The Information is a satire of London literary life. It serves as Amis's comment on the tenacious and competitive nature of the literary world.
Most critics have found Amis's first three novels—The Rachel Papers, Dead Babies, and Success—remarkably similar. As Neil Powell noted, "each is a social and sexual satire in which an unlikely hero emerges as a precarious survivor while the beautiful and damned all around him go to pieces." According to Charles Michener, The Rachel Papers is largely autobiographical, and Amis revealed to the critic that the novel is about the year he spent in "crammers" before attending Oxford. Powell contends that Amis made Dead Babies lewd and obscene in an effort to numb readers and that the author's "attempts at ironic or satirical detachment, employing updated Swiftian or Fieldingesque devices, are uneasy." He faults Amis for relying on the bombastic and sensational to sell his readers, and questions whether the author will ever outgrow his penchant for depicting the gratuitous and obscene. Time's Arrow has been faulted for both its confusing time structure and its controversial subject matter involving the Holocaust. Many critics focused on Amis's reversal of cause and effect in the narration of the tale, and took issue with his fictionalization of the historical record of Nazi Germany. Nevertheless, commentators typically acknowledged that the satirical elements of the plot work effectively, and that the magnitude of telling a story in reverse presented Amis with special challenges. John Updike wrote: "Amis's ambitious concerns with inhumanity, time, and the unthinkable converge in Time's Arrow, a work of impressive intensity and virtuosity, albeit bristling with problematical aspects." According to Maya Slater, who found the narrative hard to follow: "Amis, by reversing the order of events, has deprived us of our ease of reading." Visiting Mrs. Nabokov is a collection of short essays and sketches written on assignment for various British and American magazines. Francine Prose noted: "[The essays] … move quickly; they don't ask much of us, or offend." Yet Chris Savage King found Amis's personal sketches to be tedious and pretentious. King wrote, "I used to find Amis an entertaining writer. I found this collection pretty miserable." The Information, which examines the subject of literary envy, has had a favorable reception. Calling the novel "… a study of envy and egomania that happens to play itself out in the world of publishing," Julian Loose has claimed that "the primary pleasure of reading The Information is that of being regularly swept up in … epic, frothy, digressions." Others agree that The Information is full of literary allusions and is noteworthy for its examination of life in the publishing industry. "The Information … comes to us under a storm of attendant publicity about its roots in real life," wrote Ed Morales. Many laud the novel as a culmination of Amis's strengths. Adam Mars-Jones holds: "[The Information] … has everything in common with Money and London Fields in terms of tone and territory." Pulling together several of the themes and motifs of his earlier works, The Information has been praised as a synthesis of Amis's work, but it has also been observed that the novel is a rehashing of his often used literary devices. Merle Rubin contends: "It may … strike many readers as perhaps a little too familiar-sounding if they've read Mr. Amis's earlier books."
The Rachel Papers (novel) 1974
Dead Babies (novel) 1975
Success (novel) 1978
Other People: A Mystery Story (novel) 1981
Money: A Suicide Note (novel) 1984
The Moronic Inferno and Other Visits to America (essays) 1986
Einstein's Monsters (essays and short stories) 1987
London Fields (novel) 1989
Time's Arrow, or The Nature of the Offense (novel) 1991
Visiting Mrs. Nabokov and Other Excursions (essays) 1993
The Information (novel) 1995
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SOURCE: "What Life Is: The Novels of Martin Amis," in PN Review, Vol. 7, No. 6, 1981, p. 42-45.
[In the following essay, Powell provides overviews and analyses of three of Amis's early novels, The Rachel Papers, Dead Babies, and Success.]
Success is a funny thing. In literature (as K.W. Gransden observed in an amiable poem on Poetry Now recently), there are those notable popular successes which turn up, still in their paper jackets but a little tatty, cluttering the shelves of second-hand bookshops a couple of decades later, their authors either forgotten or remembered merely as instances of the fickleness of reputations. Then there are the successes which enjoy a quite different kind of life, even though their 'literary' reputations may stand hardly higher than those of the first sort: books which are distinctively of their time and which, though by no means great works of art, succeed through accuracy of detail and of tone—as, for instance, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning does. And finally, there are the successes which endure, which are never to be found gathering dust on bookshop shelves, and of which the paperback spines, after a decent interval, change colour from orange to the dignified grey of the Penguin Modern Classics.
Martin Amis's three novels belong at present to the second category of success: but, such is the league-table logic of this particular...
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SOURCE: "The Wit and Fury of Martin Amis," in Rolling Stone, No. 578, May 17, 1990, pp. 95-99, 101-02.
[In the following interview, Amis discusses his work, literary influences, and techniques, and his reputation as a misogynist, among other topics.]
"Look, we're not running this."
That's what Martin Amis said to his London publishers when they showed him a proposed advertisement for his new novel, London Fields. Over a picture of a rancid meat pie crawling with maggots, the ad read: "Today, in London, the average man will think about sex 20 times. One man in three will masturbate. One person will be murdered within three days. A woman will be sexually assaulted every three hours. And five children will die from parental abuse within the week. London Fields … [is] a novel about ordinary, everyday life."
Amis wanted to lose the meat pie.
Long hailed—and heckled—as the enfant terrible of English fiction, Martin Amis is no longer an enfant (he's forty) and less terrible than ever (he changes diapers—"but only the damp ones"). Nonetheless, his sixth and most ambitious novel is a whopping nightmare of spiritual and planetary decay. What many critics have failed to point out, though, is that far from being a daunting or depressing nightmare of spiritual and planetary decay,...
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SOURCE: "Backward Steps," in New Statesman and Society, Vol. 4, No. 170, September 27, 1991, p. 55.
[In the following negative review, Taylor discusses the time structure of Time's Arrow, calling the novel "an entertaining conceit wound out to extravagant length."]
The "time's arrow" metaphor has obviously been knocking around in Martin Amis' consciousness for a year or two. Nearly used as the title of what became London Fields, it now surfaces at the masthead of this ingeniously bulked out novella—one of those short books that have been artfully got up to resemble a medium-sized book, with a price to match.
The arrow in question points backwards: a man's life viewed in reverse by an observant but understandably baffled intelligence, defined as "the soul he should have had, who came at the wrong time, after it was too late".
The note of dislocation, whether actual or spiritual, is a constant. Our acquaintance with septuagenarian Tod Friendly begins on his deathbed (a hospital stake-out attended by levées of doctors) subsequently taking in a back-to-front recapitulation of his career.
As a conceit, it is meticulously done, each gesture and inflection fitting perfectly into the reverse tape loop, so that the general effect resembles a video on the rewind: the puzzling cars with their five reverse gears, the server's arbitrary pocketing...
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SOURCE: "From Death to Birth," in The New York Times Book Review, November 17, 1991, p. 15.
[In the following review of Time's Arrow, Lehman focuses on the reversed chronological order of the book's narrative and the intent of Amis's technique.]
My 8-year-old son, an expert at videocassette recorders, wondered one day, "Why can't we rewind time?" The question in all its blunt naïveté suggests the imaginative conceit at the heart of Martin Amis's remarkable new novel, Time's Arrow. Mr. Amis explores how life would appear, how it would feel and what sense it would seem to make if it were a film running backward—if time's arrow were to reverse its direction and a recording angel, along for the ride, permitted us to watch history (which Lord Byron called "the devil's scripture") as it is unwritten, line by line, gesture by gesture, until the perpetrators of the 20th century vanish into their mother's wombs.
The vehicle for this experiment in chronology—you might call it a fictional deconstruction of time—is the backward narration of one man's life. Mr. Amis's protagonist is a shady character, a doctor known retrogressively as Tod T. Friendly, John Young, Hamilton de Souza and Odilo Unverdorben. There is a good deal of onomastic playfulness at work here, since "Tod" means death in German, a language of considerable importance in this short novel; "friendly" is life in...
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SOURCE: A review of Time's Arrow, in Partisan Review, Vol. LIX, No. 2, Spring, 1992, pp. 282-95.
[In the following excerpt, Bell dismisses Time's Arrow as "offensive" and maintains that Amis "fails to comprehend" what he has "exploited" in his story about Nazi Germany.]
Martin Amis's restless ingenuity trips him up in a more serious way in Time's Arrow, a laborious attempt to be "original" about the Holocaust—hardly a subject that lends itself to the artful devisings of literary contrivance, or the sardonic bray of satire that has characterized his earlier work. In his new novel Amis has literally bent over backwards to be different. Reversing the order of time, Amis's portrait of a Nazi doctor, assistant to Mengele in Auschwitz, begins with his death and ends with his birth, taking him from his final days in California through years of medical practice in Boston and New York, to hiding out in Portugal and Italy after the war, to Auschwitz, medical school, and birth in Solingen, where Eichmann, too, was born. Conversations run from end to start, seagulls fly in reverse, corpses come to life. Since the doctor is incorrigibly priapic, the sexual implications of the backward scheme are obvious.
Amis attempts to underscore the gravity of his undertaking by splitting the consciousness of his protagonist: The narrator is the soul of the Nazi doctor—the confused,...
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SOURCE: "Problems When Time Moves Backwards: Martin Amis's Time's Arrow," in English: The Journal of the English Association, Vol. 42, No. 173, Summer, 1993, pp. 141-52.
[In the following essay, Slater points to problems that occur in the narrative of Time's Arrow as Amis attempts to tell a story in reverse.]
In his latest novel, Time's Arrow, Martin Amis takes up the challenge posed by Nabokov in Look at the Harlequins!: 'Nobody can imagine in physical terms the act of reversing the order of time. Time is not reversible'. Amis does perform this impossible task. His novel begins with the hero's death, and works back through his life more or less to his birth. The result is more eccentric than might be expected by readers familiar with flashbacks or works like Pinter's play Betrayal, whose scenes succeed each other in reverse chronology. For Amis moves backwards through time on a more fundamental level. We are given a minutely detailed account of the hero's life in reverse, as though we had pressed the reverse button on a video recorder. In the world of this book, people walk backwards to their cars, and the cars go off down the road backwards. Bunches of flowers are taken back to gardens, and reattached to plants. The plants grow smaller and finally disappear into the ground as seeds. Rain never falls, but is sucked upwards into the clouds. Collapsed piles of rubble...
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SOURCE: "Bits of Rough," in New Statesman and Society, October, 1993, pp. 39-40.
[In the following negative review, King calls Visiting Mrs. Nabokov "gossipy" and "egotistical," and dismisses the collection of journalistic pieces as "pretty miserable."]
Martin Amis excites hero-worship and resentment in equal measure. From male writers, this is often a symptom of wanting to be him. This new collection of journalism covers a range of subjects that include snooker, fiction and Martin Amis. Being female, I should, in Amis' view, be "less baffled and repelled" in making critical judgments. Here we go, then.
It wasn't his fault that he was born into the literati, and Visiting Mrs Nabokov abounds in literary gossip. When Burgess and Borges met, they chatted in Anglo-Saxon! Excuse me: what a pair of nellies. Here's Amis on Saul Bellow at a conference in Haifa: "He was in stalwart attendance … on the day I gave my paper …" Or Amis on his friendship with Salman Rushdie: "I often tell him that if the Rushdie Affair were, for instance, the Amis Affair …" How about Martin reporting from the set of Robocop II? "Here's cold proof of how hip and classy this outfit is: nearly everyone had read my stuff." Or scolding Polanski for miscasting Tess? "Polanski shrugged and disagreed, showing no more than mild disappointment."
Most writers have egos the...
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SOURCE: "Novelist at Large," in The New York Times Book Review, February 27, 1994, p. 17.
[In the following review, Prose lauds Visiting Mrs. Nabokov as light, unoffensive, and lively.]
Written for British newspapers like The Observer and American magazines like Vanity Fair, and as an apparently welcome respite from writing fiction, the articles in Martin Amis's latest collection of essays have the range and appealing ragbag variety of work done on assignment. Indeed, as he writes in the introduction to Visiting Mrs. Nabokov: And Other Excursions, the only thing that unites these pieces is "getting out of the house."
In his forays away from his desk, Mr. Amis goes to China with a rowdy British soccer team whose patron and mascot is Elton John; he talks to Salman Rushdie in hiding, interviews Graham Greene in Paris and, in "one of the pillared public rooms of the Montreux Palace Hotel," visits Vladimir Nabokov's widow, Véra. He also attends a Rolling Stones concert, the Cannes Film Festival and the 1988 Republican National Convention, watches world championship chess and women's tennis matches, and plays poker with David Mamet and snooker with Julian Barnes.
Much of this is amusing, and it's perversely gratifying to see Mr. Amis irritated or horrified by things that we feel might annoy or appall us too: by the grim corporate architecture of...
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SOURCE: "Martin Amis: Between the Influences of Bellow and Nabokov," in The Antioch Review, Vol. 52, No. 4, Fall, 1994, pp. 580-90.
[In the following essay, Alexander discusses the influences of Saul Bellow and Vladimir Nabokov in Amis's work, focusing on London Fields, Money, and The Moronic Inferno.]
Martin Amis's novels feature heroes of playboy fantasies, unscrupulous upwardly mobile yobs, and charismatic murderers. With a mixture of anxiety and fascination, Amis chronicles the "cheapening of humanity," a phenomenon he attributes partly to the uniquely twentieth-century prospect of total annihilation and partly to the fact that much of American (and more lately British) life is dedicated to televised "event glamour"—a phrase borrowed from Amis's mentor, Saul Bellow. Both writers maintain that popular sporting/religious extravaganzas give a false sense of collective life experience. Moreover, says Amis, channel-hoppers skip through tabloid journalism shows, cursory reports of sex scandals and riots, and mini-series on serial killers, delighting only in unsavory special effects. "It's a distracted age," Amis notes gravely; "the narrative line in human life is gone," and with it, he suggests, human decency.
Because the "decline of the West" is Amis's subject, he has earned an unfavorable reputation for playing the social critic, or if you prefer, for being a quixotic champion...
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SOURCE: "Energy and Entropy," in New Statesman & Society, March 24, 1995, p. 24.
[In the following review, Kaveney asserts that The Information is a "generic" Amis novel, and claims the book to be "the overpriced sale of second-hand shoddy."]
Nervous energy is not enough. Martin Amis has built a successful career on, and out of, fear of failure. His interest in that fear, like ours, is wearing thin. Sexual rebuffs in The Rachel Papers, having your credit cards cut up in smart New York restaurants in Money—these were intense moments because they are anti-sacraments, outward signs of an entire gracelessness thus far concealed.
The vehemence of this self-distrust underlay the obsession with bodily functions, which critics called Swiftian. Admit, pre-emptively, acne and dandruff, and people might stop at criticising your skin and your hair. Self-distrust also helped Amis produce interesting, if self-serving, responses to feminist critiques of male attitudes. Admit to this sin or that and you might get to plea-bargain the rest. He could be attacked for getting it wrong, but not for dodging the issues.
This was made easier by his interest in formal game-playing, derived from Nabokov, and his use of unreliable narration as the literary equivalent of dodgy alibis—I wasn't there, it wasn't me who did it, and I was drunk at the time. The crooked...
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SOURCE: "What Little Boys Are Made Of," in The Observer Review, March 26, 1995, p. 17.
[In the following predominantly negative review, Ratcliffe discusses some of the "bad writing" that is present in The Information, noting that while parts of the tale are sincere and "diversionary," much of the novel is "self-laceratingly autobiographical."]
There are three ideas in Martin Amis's long and lugubrious revenger's comedy.
The first is that writers are, on the whole, a nightmare and, while he's sorry about that, it's much, much worse for them than for their nearest and dearest. The second is that men have a terrible time simply keeping up with other men, never mind the eternal struggle with their girlfriends, daughters and wives. (Women will ask questions so.) The third is that the universe is a pretty big place, and getting bigger all the time.
This is the worst news of all, because it means that, sub specie eternitatis, with an infinite cosmos of cold, hostile matter waiting to kill us out there, neither of the first two problems matters a toss. No wonder Amis is always photographed looking so solemn, moody and mean, the handsome face not even attempting to conceal some dreadful kind of inner crash.
I promised I wouldn't write about Amis the phenomenon, the face or the hype, since this is a review of The Information, the book, and...
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SOURCE: "The Inflammation," in The New York Times Book Review, April 23, 1995, p. 3.
[In the following review, Buckley discusses The Information and how Amis has evolved as a writer.]
There's been a whole lot of keening in the British press lately about, Martin Amis's new novel, and some in our own. The cause of all this fuss and feathers is that—brace yourself—he fired one agent (the wife of his close friend, the novelist Julian Barnes), and hired another, Andrew Wylie, an American now referred to in the British papers as "the Jackal" and "the Robert Maxwell of agenting," who got him a juicy advance for the British edition, rumored to be close to $800,000. To a novelist like, say, Jeffrey Archer, $800,000 is a mere rounding error; but to a literary novelist like Mr. Amis it is giant clams indeed. Skeptics are already predicting that HarperCollins, the book's British publisher, will never earn that money back. At any rate, the result of all this has been an unseemly, indecorous and envious caterwauling such as has not been heard since William Golding won the Nobel Prize in 1983. As Gore Vidal famously put it, "Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little." Every now and then you're reminded what a teensy little sceptered isle Britain is. Maybe it's just a case of Amis envy. Still, you wonder: Don't they have anything better to worry about?
You have to hand it to Mr....
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SOURCE: "Pen Envy: The Baroque Obsessions of an Unpublishable Writer Character," in Los Angeles Times Book Review, April 30, 1995, pp. 3, 13.
[In the following review, Eder lauds Amis as "dark, satirical and gifted with irascibility." However, he does find fault with Amis's lack of "inventiveness" and the aim of the author's satire.]
The best-known male writers of Britain's postwar period wrote of a zero-sum island where rancor was the leading literary theme. The women writers, meanwhile, were beginning to find ways to move on: Iris Murdoch through pagan myth, Muriel Spark and Penelope Fitzgerald through different kinds of humor with a similar root in sadness.
In retrospect, perhaps "angry young men" was not quite the right term for John Osborne, Philip Larkin, Kingsley Amis and their contemporaries. Anger carries the implication that it will change something; in their case it was more a matter of chained resentment. The chains were rattled wonderfully well, sometimes; and the result was a stagy vitality that found its strongest expression, in fact, with the renaissance of British theater in the 1950s, '60s and '70s.
Murdoch, Spark and Fitzgerald kept on writing, and some of their freest and finest work has come in the past dozen years. Most of those male writers have died or fallen silent; only Amis, at a rate of a novel every couple of years, keeps on rattling his...
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SOURCE: "Raging Midlife Crisis as Contemporary Ethos," in The New York Times, May 2, 1995, p. C17.
[In the following review, Kakutani favorably discusses The Information as "ambitious" and "uncompromising," and predicts that the book will be favorably received.]
Once in a while in some artists' careers, there comes along a work that sums up all their preoccupations, all their technical innovations to date. Sometimes, as in the case of Philip Roth's novel Operation Shylock, the work is simply a playful but solipsistic dictionary of familiar riffs and routines, a self-referential game of mirrors. Other times, as in the case of Ingmar Bergman's film Fanny and Alexander, the work is a wonderful synthesis of all that has gone before, a synthesis that not only serves as a kind of Rosetta stone to an oeuvre, but also transcends the sum of its parts.
While Martin Amis's new novel, The Information, is no Fanny and Alexander, it happily belongs to that second category of work. By turns satirical and tender, funny and disturbing, The Information marks a giant leap forward in Mr. Amis's career. Here, in a tale of middle-aged angst and literary desperation, all the themes and stylistic experiments of Mr. Amis's earlier fiction come together in a symphonic whole.
Like his first novel, The Rachel Papers, The Information features a...
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SOURCE: "Satisfaction," in London Review of Books, Vol. 17, No. 9, May 11, 1995, pp. 9-10.
[In the following review, Loose discusses the themes, strengths, and weaknesses of Amis's novel The Information.]
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 I want all that. And I want all that and I want all that. And I want all that and I want all that.' Or like the fast-food, fast-sex junkie John Self of Money, who always gets less than he bargains for, yet keeps going back for more: 'I would cheerfully go into the alchemy business, if it existed and made lots of money.' Amis goes to any length to remind us of our whole-hearted addiction to the unwholesome—to alcohol, say, or nuclear weapons. The central character in his new novel, The Information, is so committed to smoking that he wants to start again before he's even given up: 'Not so much to fill the little gaps between cigarettes with cigarettes (there wouldn't be time, anyway) or to smoke two cigarettes at once. It was more that he felt the desire to smoke a cigarette even when he was smoking a cigarette.' Keith Talent in London Fields feels much the same way about pornography: 'He had it on all the time, and even that wasn't enough for him. He wanted it...
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SOURCE: "The Information—An Unpleasant, Familiar-Sounding Book," in The Christian Science Monitor, May 17, 1995, p. 14.
[In the following review, Rubin examines The Information and states that despite the "unpleasant" nature of the story, Amis manages to contrive a "scathing satire of London literary life."]
The publication of Martin Amis's eighth novel, The Information, stirred up considerable controversy in London literary circles, not only over the size of the advance its author demanded, but also over what some deemed his mistreatment of his literary friends and associates. (Amis replaced his former agent, Pat Kavanagh, wife of his longtime crony and fellow novelist Julian Barnes, with the far more aggressive agent Andrew Wylie, while allegedly using his soon-to-be-former friends as fodder for his fiction.)
Ironically, The Information happens to be a scathing satire of London literary life as epitomized in the covertly rivalrous relationship between two writers: successful, respected novelist Gwyn Barry and his increasingly envious and embittered friend Richard Tull, who obsessively schemes to damage Barry, both professionally and personally, in any way that he can.
Tull and Barry both started out as promising young writers, with Tull slightly in the lead. Better spoken, coming from a superior social class, more skilled at tennis,...
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SOURCE: "Amis and Envy," in The Village Voice, Vol. XL, No. 21, May 23, 1995, p. 52.
[In the following review, Morales discusses briefly the plot, themes, and autobiographical elements of The Information, praising some aspects of Amis's writing and faulting others.]
With The Information, Martin Amis seems poised to make a profound comment on the nature of the writing business, the unnerving inevitability of aging, and, well, death itself. At least it appears that the information he refers to is Death; Death of the English Novel, Death of Western Civilization, Death of the White Guy. The word that's obviously missing from this title is Superhighway, but Amis, who still writes his novels in longhand, seems to want no part of postmodern debate about technology and media, opting instead to offer this tidbit of crucial information: "The history of astronomy is the history of increasing humiliation." The sun doesn't revolve around Martin Amis!
The plot—there really exists very little plot—revolves around Richard Tull, a miserable, failed novelist turned book reviewer approaching 40, filled with envy toward his old friend Gwyn Barry, whose vapid, talentless prose has produced international bestselling novels about a p.c. Shangri-la called Amelior. Tull's obsessed with destroying Barry, by exposing him as a plagiarist, by sleeping with his wife, the Lady Demeter, by...
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SOURCE: "The Content of His Characters," in National Review, Vol. XLVII, No. 10, May 29, 1995, pp. 61-63.
[In the following review, Bowman asserts that Amis's work is often lacking in plot but strong in prose.]
Writers of fiction in the twentieth century can be divided into the champions of big texture and the champions of big content, and there can be no question that the texturalists have had the better of the conflict. The reassuringly Aristotelian beginning, middle, and end, which used to be thought a minimum requirement for a novel, have given way among the adepts of literary culture to what Ezra Pound called (and called for): "Beginning, Whoop! and then any sort of tail-off." Since Joyce at least, it has become a mark of the cognoscenti to admire prose fiction for its prose, rather than its fiction.
Martin Amis has become the star of his literary generation in Britain by leaving behind the fuddy-duddy Englishness of his father, Kingsley Amis, to adopt with enthusiasm the Hiberno-Continental view of the supreme literary virtue of a learned and coruscating prose style. He has worked very hard on his prose in The Information, as he has also done in his earlier books, and there has been little time left over for content. Plot has never been Amis's strong suit. Nor has characterization. Nor have ideas. They are still not. As for politics, he was recently quoted in the British...
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SOURCE: "Discussions of Recent Books: A Black Comedy of Manners," in The Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 72, No. 3, Summer, 1996, pp. 561-64.
[In the following negative review, Ward faults The Information, saying it "does not have a plot, it has predicaments and events." He also declares that "none of the characters in The Information comes close to being sympathetic."]
On its publication Martin Amis's The Information threatened to be avalanched by the various English literary and celebrity controversies of which its author was the lightning rod. Amis having his teeth fixed; Amis changing his agent thereby losing his friendship with author Julian Barnes who is the husband of Amis's now ex-agent; Amis hiring an American agent (nicknamed "The Jackal"!) and getting too much money for his next book(s); Amis divorcing; Amis generally getting too big for his britches; etc., etc. All this extra-literary brouhaha, which brawled over into the always decorous British tabloids, actually helped make people feel comfortable. It facilitated slotting The Information into easy categories: it was an expression of the author's "mid-life crisis" or a wicked literary roman a clef or Amis had "gone American." Since the subjects that Amis remorselessly anatomizes are so painful, displacement could be achieved by reducing literature to autobiography: "Boy, his teeth must have really hurt when...
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Diedrick, James. Understanding Martin Amis. University of South Carolina Press, 1995.
A study of the themes and features found in Amis's work. Discussion of Amis's artistic vision, his journalistic experiences, and overview of the characteristics that make Amis's work unique. The book includes bibliographical references.
Doan, Laura. "'Sexy Greedy Is the Late Eighties': Power Systems in Amis' Money and Churchill's Serious Money." The Minnesota Review 34/35 (Spring/Fall 1990): 69-80.
This essay compares power structures in Amis's Money to those in Churchill's Serious Money.
Harrison, M. John. "Speeding to Cradle from Grave." The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4616 (20 September 1991): 21.
Compares the reverse-chronological time structure in Time's Arrow with several works by other authors that share the same organization, and praises the novel's originality and inventiveness.
Kermode, Frank. "In Reverse." London Review of Books 13, No. 17 (13 September 1991): 11.
Examines the time structure of Time's Arrow.
Kessler, Jascha. "Reads Like Lightning." American Book...
(The entire section is 432 words.)