December 7, 2003: Scary Martin Amis

martin amis

"Scary" Martin Amis

Recently I printed out a digital image I made of Martin Amis at my most recent conversation with him. I showed it to my friend Janice and her immediate reaction was that he was scary looking, "He looks like a vampire," she opined. Michael, my other friend who was also given a preview, agreed. I found this more shocking than the reaction of Heather at the offices I use as the site of my conversations. She was so excited and thrilled at meeting and being in proximity to Marty that I thought I was going to be the recipient of unsolicited but not unwelcome sexual lavishness. All of which points to Amis as a kind of lightening rod of strong, uh, reactions, an issue addressed in a recent feature in the San Francisco Chronicle: "What would the British press do if it didn’t have Martin Amis to haul through the gutter? Scorned as an intellectual snob and a child of privilege — his father was the author Kingsley Amis — Amis is having his worst year yet, with the publication of Yellow Dog in August. A comic novel about dislocation, pornography, male misbehavior and the British monarchy, Yellow Dog was the subject of a spirited public mauling that was launched in August by Tibor Fischer, a novelist whose newest work, not coincidentally, was published on the same day as Yellow Dog."

As a side bar, Deirdre Day-MacLeod spanks Fischer for with this rejoinder to his infamous embargo breaking review of Yellow Dog, "I must admit it’s pretty difficult to review an Amis book to begin with, especially if one is overly concerned with the opinion of fellow commuters as you seem to be. Really, Tibor (the trend in these articles is to use first names), perhaps you ought to do something about your fear that other people on the train really care what you are reading and that they are judging you for enjoying certain kinds of reading matter. Even without the problem of reading while only thinking about yourself, Amis is a hard one to look at with a clear head and a reasonable eye. Even if he hasn’t already been blasted by some other British male writer with an eye on the Booker, Amis comes as part of a larger literary narrative."

This is a view that in some sense echoes my own on Amis. He is not easy to read —sometimes, not even fun to read. But as in past encounters with both his writing and his person, I find Amis worth paying attention to and certainly not to be taken lightly or dismissively —which I think is the effect of the ad hominum and self-serving fulminating that orbits him. And yes I think Yellow Dog is worthwhile and engaging, and I don’t see Marty as scary looking.

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