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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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...
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