Martin Amis

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 96

In addition to novels, essays, criticism, and cultural history have provided important literary outlets for Martin Amis (AY-mihs). Invasion of the Space Invaders (1982) is a history of video games, while The Moronic Inferno and Other Visits to America (1986) is a collection of journalistic essays. Visiting Mrs. Nabokov, and Other Excursions (1993) and The Second Plane: September 11, Terror, and Boredom (2008) are collections of some of Amis’s essays on literature, politics, sports, and popular culture. His short stories, which include some of his most imaginative writing, are collected in Einstein’s Monsters (1987) and Heavy Water, and Other Stories (1998).


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Martin Amis has been a force on the modern literary scene since his first novel, The Rachel Papers, won the Somerset Maugham Award for 1974. Critical and popular acclaim accompanied his sixth novel, London Fields, which was a best seller on both sides of the Atlantic. Time’s Arrow was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, and Yellow Dog, for the British Book Awards, for literary fiction. In 2000, for Experience, he won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for biography.

Amis has a powerfully comic and satiric vision of the ills of contemporary society, which he caricatures in a way that has reminded many reviewers of Charles Dickens. Amis spares his reader little in his depiction of low-life characters in all their physical grossness and emotional aridity. The emptiness and corruption inherent in a materialistic culture are recurring themes in his work. In spite of the often-sordid subject matter, however, Amis’s novels are illuminated by their stylistic exuberance and ingenuity. More than one critic has remarked on the American flavor of Amis’s work, and he is regularly compared to Tom Wolfe and Saul Bellow.

Discussion Topics

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Given Martin Amis’s unforgiving and obvious contempt for his own culture’s violence and greed, what is the value of his satire? Can satire fix social problems by raising awareness?

Amis is often accused of lacking compassion, particularly in his creation of often stereotypical female characters and the lack of convincing love stories. How important is that sort of emotional argument to the work of serious fiction?

Is it appropriate for a novelist to experiment with form and methods of telling a story when dealing with controversial issues such as terrorism and the Holocaust?

Although Amis is a distinctly moralistic writer, he has contempt for organized religion. Trace the elements of his discontent with religion.

How does the narrative technique of using character doubling, doppelgängers, and twins help Amis explore the complicated moral nature of the human soul?

Amis’s vision is distinctly urban. Assess his vision of the contemporary turn-of-the-century cosmopolitan scene.

Does Amis’s fascination with aberrant behavior, his graphic depictions of violence, his interest in drugs and decadent sex, and his use of obscene language detract from his moral vision or enforce it?


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Alexander, Victoria N. “Martin Amis: Between the Influences of Bellow and Nabokov.” Antioch Review 52, no. 4 (1994): 580-590. Investigates the links between Amis and two of the authors whom he most reveres, Saul Bellow and Vladimir Nabokov.

Amis, Martin. Experience: A Memoir. New York: Hyperion, 2000. A powerfully written, imaginatively shaped memoir in which one of the aging Young Turks of British writing reflects candidly on his illustrious father, his murdered cousin, and his own controversial life as writer, son, husband, and father.

Diedrick, James. Understanding Martin Amis. 2d ed. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2004. Expansion of the first book-length study of Amis’s fiction and career looks at all aspects of this multifaceted writer, including his criticism. Discusses the novels through Yellow Dog.

Edmondson, Elie H. “Martin Amis Writes Postmodern Man.” Critique 42 (Winter, 2001): 145-154. Explicates the techniques that Amis uses to revise reader expectations of the traditional novel. Focuses particularly on the novel Money.

Finney, Brian. Martin Amis. New York: Routledge, 2008. Provides an introduction to Amis’s novels, with discussion of critical approaches to the work. Includes biographical information.

Finney, Brian. “Narrative and Narrated Homicides in Martin Amis’s Other People and London Fields.” Critique 37 (Fall, 1995): 3-15. Argues that in these two novels, by using manipulative, self-conscious narrators who victimize the other characters, Amis forces his readers to recognize how the characters are both immersed in and outside the action.

Keulks, Gavin. Father and Son: Kingsley Amis, Martin Amis, and the British Novel Since 1950. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003. Ambitious chronicle of a literary dynasty places both father and son within the contexts of their times.

Marowski, Daniel G., ed. Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 38. Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research, 1986. Includes a summary of Amis’s work and achievements up to Money, as well as extensive extracts from reviews of Dead Babies, Success, Other People, and Money, from both Great Britain and the United States. Volume 4 (1975) and volume 9 (1978) in the same series also have sections on Amis.

Moyle, David. “Beyond the Black Hole: The Emergence of Science Fiction Themes in the Recent Work of Martin Amis.” Extrapolation 36 (Winter, 1995): 305-315. Shows how Amis adapts traditional science-fiction themes, such as time travel, concern about the end of the world, and a Dr. Frankenstein-like lack of regard for conventional morality, in Time’s Arrow and London Fields.

Stout, Mira. “Martin Amis: Down London’s Mean Streets.” The New York Times Magazine, February 4, 1990. Lively feature article in which Amis, prodded by Stout, discusses a range of topics, including London Fields, his interest in the environment, his early life and career, his relationship with his father, the state of the novel as a form, the Thatcher government, middle age, and his daily work routine.

Tredell, Nicolas, ed. The Fiction of Martin Amis: A Reader’s Guide to Essential Criticism. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002. Collection of reviews, critical essays, and other materials presents discussion of a wide range of topics concerning Amis’s fiction, including the author’s use of language and his representation of sexuality.

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Critical Essays