Martin Amis Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Martin Amis (AY-mihs) became a distinguished contributor to British letters immediately upon his 1971 graduation from Oxford, when he began reviewing books for the Observer. His prize-winning first novel, The Rachel Papers, appeared in 1973, the beginning of a prolific career rivaling that of his father, novelist Kingsley Amis. In contrast to those of his father, however, Amis’s novels are in a style often called postmodern. Heavily influenced by such writers as Vladimir Nabokov, Amis experimented with techniques including the unreliable narrator, direct address to the audience, and a self-consciously playful use of language. By the 1990’s Amis had become one of the premier living British writers, nominated for many prizes and discussed frequently in the literary press, often in a manner that crossed over into gossip. Public interest in Amis’s life, as well as his works, probably derived from some combination of curiosity about his father, admiration of his achievement as a writer, and envy of his intelligence and self-confidence.

Amis was born August 25, 1949, in Oxford, England, to Kingsley Amis and the former Hilary Bardwell. An older brother, Philip, was born in 1947 and a younger sister, Sally, in 1954. The family lived for a time in Wales and later in Princeton, New Jersey, for one year, an experience that gave Amis a feeling of connection with the United States. His parents separated in 1963, and his mother, Hilary, moved with the children to Majorca for four months. From that point on, Kingsley Amis lived with the novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard until their divorce in 1980. During this period Martin divided his allegiance between two households. His rapport with his father’s second wife, whom he called Jane, was warm. He credits her for taking charge of his schooling during a tumultuous adolescence. In 1981 Hilary, now married to Alastair Kilmarnock, returned with her husband to care for Kingsley in his declining years. Kingsley Amis died in 1995.

After three years at Exeter College, Oxford, Amis became a literary journalist and started work on his first novel, The Rachel Papers. During this time, his seven-year affiliation with the New Statesman had begun. There he worked alongside two men who became his close friends: James Fenton and Christopher Hitchens. The three of them were leading lights of literary London, establishing reputations that remained undiminished for the next several decades. After leaving the New Statesman in 1980, Amis continued to publish reviews and nonfiction in that periodical and many others in England and the United States. He was loosely associated with a group of fellow Oxford graduates including novelists Ian McEwan and Julian Barnes, critic and biographer Ian Hamilton, and journalist Tina Brown. Most of these people remained friends and associates, despite the painful rift in...

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Martin Amis Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The son of the novelist Kingsley Amis, Martin Louis Amis spent his early years in Swansea, in south Wales, where his father held a teaching position at Swansea University. The family spent a year in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1959, and then moved to Cambridge, England. Amis’s parents were divorced when Amis was twelve, and this had a disruptive effect on his schooling: He attended a total of fourteen schools in six years. As a teenager he had a brief acting career, appearing in the film A High Wind in Jamaica (1965). In 1968 he entered Exeter College, Oxford, and graduated in 1971 with first-class honors in English. He immediately became editorial assistant for The Times Literary Supplement and began writing his first novel, The Rachel Papers. In 1975 Amis became assistant literary editor of the New Statesman, and his second novel, Dead Babies, was published in the same year.

In 1980, when Amis was a writer and reviewer for the London newspaper The Observer, he reported his discovery that the American writer Jacob Epstein had plagiarized as many as fifty passages from The Rachel Papers for his own novel Wild Oats (1979). The accusation created a storm in the literary world. Epstein quickly conceded that he had indeed copied passages from Amis’s novel and others into a notebook that he had then inadvertently used for his own novel. Thirteen deletions were made for the second...

(The entire section is 416 words.)

Martin Amis Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Martin Louis Amis (AY-mihs) was born on August 25, 1949, in Oxford, England. He is the son of Kingsley Amis, the famous novelist, and Hilary Amis, daughter of a shoe-manufacturing millionaire. These parents would soon plunge young Martin into a kind of nomadic existence as they moved from one place to another, an odyssey that would require him to attend no fewer than fourteen different schools and live in at least three different countries. This heterogeneous background, in fact, may well account for his uncanny ability to appreciate various cultures, classes, and occupations.

Martin Amis, along with his older brother Philip and younger sister Sally, spent his early childhood years in Swansea, southern Wales, where the elder Amis held a teaching position at Swansea University. While in Swansea, Kingsley Amis published his most famous novel, Lucky Jim (1954), and the instant success of that novel initiated a string of new teaching appointments, including a crucially important year (1959) in Princeton, New Jersey. During that year, the ten-year-old Martin began to acquire his lifelong fascination with the exuberance of American slang, as shown much later in his brilliantly comic masterpiece Money: A Suicide Note (1984), which is set in both New York and London.

In 1960, the Amis family settled once more in England, this time in Cambridge, but the family unity was shattered the next year, when Kingsley and Hilary Amis were divorced. Young Martin spent the next year, 1962, on the island of Majorca, Spain, in the company of his mother, sister, and brother. There he attended an international school with a wide variety of students. In 1963, he returned to England and briefly became a professional actor by landing a role in the film production of A High Wind in Jamaica (1965). During the next year, he attended school in London, where the primary focus of his life was social not academic, for he spent the bulk of his time investigating the lowlife of the city, not unlike the feckless ne’er-do-wells of his novel London Fields (1989).

Around 1965, possibly under the influence of his stepmother, the novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard, Amis began to read serious literature and prepare himself for a university career by attending a series of “crammers” or preparatory schools. In 1968, he was admitted to Exeter College, Oxford; in 1971, he received a B.A. with first-class honors in English.

Amis began his career as a man of letters in 1971, although at first he was operating strictly behind the scenes as a book reviewer for The Observer and as editorial assistant and fiction and poetry editor of the Times Literary Supplement. Simultaneously, public acclaim attached itself to his name after the appearance of The Rachel Papers (1973), a detailed and largely autobiographical work about the sexual exploits of a student named Charles Highway. Even though The Rachel Papers was Amis’s first novel, it received unusually lavish praise from the demanding British reviewers and won the prestigious Maugham Award in 1974, exactly twenty years after his father had won the same award for Lucky Jim.

In 1975, Amis became the assistant literary editor of the New Statesman, a magazine with which he would remain closely associated after becoming a full-time writer for that publication. In 1975, Amis also wrote his second novel, the controversial Dead Babies (1975), which explores the effects of drugs in a communelike setting that is destroyed by horrifying violence. This gruesome and realistic treatment of drug-induced madness caused the second American publisher to change the title to Dark Secrets (1977).

Success (1978), Amis’s third novel, continued his preoccupation with sexual excess, as well as with autobiographical elements. Certainly it can be no coincidence that the narrative plot of Success revolves around the lives of two brothers, Terry and Gregory Riding, and one...

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Martin Amis Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Although surely one of the most cerebral and intellectually engaged writers of the fin de millennium and one its most compelling moral satirists, Martin Amis disdains didacticism in literature and rejects the so-called novel of ideas as a remedy for human behavior. He does not believe that literature can fix its culture. Rather, Amis is supremely a satirist who uses the technology of language, particularly the exquisitely turned phrase, the experimental narrative structure, and caustic irony, to expose with abrasive and uncompromising honesty the greed, cruelty, obsessions, and soullessness of late-century humanity.

(The entire section is 92 words.)