May 20Liked by Henry Oliver

There's nothing like Money, or London Fields. And as they are, as you say, books that can have an almost physical effect on you when you first read them, then I think they have a fair chance of enduring.

It's true of course that everything he wrote is to some degree insufferable, and that his public persona was unbearable. In the light of the War Against Cliche, it's rather wonderful that the most memorable sentence written either by him or in connection with his writing is contained in Tibor Fischer's review of Yellow Dog.

It's also true that he wasn't good at some of the things fiction writers should be good at. Though not, I think, because he didn't notice or care about them. I don't think he ignored or downplayed plot, for example; you seem to prefer his writing when he didn't need to construct one (which is reasonable, as his either fell apart, or were so constrictive they ended up boring both him and the reader), but no one could say Money or London Fields were light on plot.

The catalogue of flaws isn't all there is, though. While the essays can be wonderful, and the tips and tricks to beat Space Invaders are useful, it's the eighties novels that are by any measure great. Maybe they would have been less good if the plots had been better. I'm almost sure they would have been less good if he'd known his limitations, and worked within them. There's a crackling electricity to some of his work that I'll never forget. An atmosphere of rancid, seedy masculinity, too; but one transmuted from the leaden awfulness of his father to something else. The other side of the coin to Bainbridge, maybe.

None of the authors who influenced him sound anything like him. There are things he did that I've never seen anyone else do, and that I don't think anyone else could have done. There are experiences he's given me that I couldn't have got from anyone else. Rest in peace.

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May 20Liked by Henry Oliver

When I heard of his death, my first thought was: "Oh, Martin Amis! I was thinking unkindly of him just recently." Totally agree with your post. Thank you for your honest appraisal of the work of Martin Amis. I've just read the gushing obits and they made me cross. Too true that the likes of Jane Gardam and other excellent novelists, never got nearly as much attention as this self-sensationalising man. I found Amis misogynistic and boorish. Shouldn't speak ill of the dead, Martin Amis RIP but, as for his legacy of the shelf of his books. I've got 'Experience' and that's enough.

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May 29Liked by Henry Oliver

Henry, thank you for this - an assessment of Martin Amis's fiction I can relate to. I'm a common-as-muck reader who read Money back in the '80s, when the critics were praising it. Unfortunately, the book's merits were lost on me. A workmate of mine - a down-to-earth Londoner - also fell for the hype. She borrowed my copy and, having read it, dropped it on my desk saying, "What a piece of crap." Since then, I've read bits and piece of his other writing and have been similarly unimpressed.

You recommend his essays, so maybe I'll give those a go. I'm put off doing so, though, by some of his views which I've stumbled upon - for example, his dismissal of Raymond Chandler's books as "dated", and Cervantes's Don Quixote as being "unreadable". Well, I'm currently reading Don Quixote and finding it a lot easier to read and enjoy than anything I've read by Martin Amis.

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Whatever your opinion of Amis this was written precipitately soon - at least from the perspective of those of us who don’t agree with you, and were actually mourning his passing. It’s in poor taste. Please have a little consideration for others. Waiting a month would have cost you nothing.

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The perennial “bad boy” of British letters, who lived to be the grand old man of bad boys,

as was his father (Kingsley Amis) before him. Some of his later novels, such as “The Zone

of Interest” [2014]; film version, dir. Jonathan Glazer [2023] were highly experimental, as

well as pretentious, while his non-fiction, esp. “Koba the Dread” [2002] was conventional

yet morally compelling, both as history and as prophecy. He had a loud mouth, but (like

Christopher Hitchens, who remained his dearest friend) the courage of his contradictions.

He veered between stupidity and sagacity, bigotry and profundity, without finding a mean

between political extremisms. He never met an opinion he didn’t love or hate, governed by

mercurial temper that never censored itself . He was clever, not deep; candid, yet careless.

His wit was sharp, but his intellect was facile. He played half-truths off against each other,

as if a series of zero-sum games were proof of dialectical rigor. He was naughty, not funny.

Amid a multitude of conflicting ideas, he refused to contain himself. Neither a rabble-rouser

nor Rabelaisian, he had no tact, but for that very reason, attained grace. Like father, like son.

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Nothing like slagging a dead man off who wrote infinitely better than yourself and who, when alive, would have ripped you apart in a few sentences.

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Strong disagree. The early novels, overlooked in all the obits - Rachel Papers, Dead Babies, Success - are as funny as Lucky Jim and as tightly plotted.

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Having earlier heaped opprobrium on the captain of this ship, was happily surprised to learn that I stand with Henry O. as one of the five or six readers who thought "Yellow Dog" undeservedly savaged. To the task of assessing the life's work of any prolific artist, this perspective is useful:

“I hope to build a house with my films. Some of them are the cellar, some are the walls, and some are the windows. But I hope in time there will be a house.”

— Rainer Werner Fassbinder

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PS Like him or not, he was undeniably an exemplar of the craft to which this publication is purportedly dedicated: he put in the work, and honored his trade.

"Curiously, in both writing and cooking, you're a dead duck if you don't love the process. When you short-circuit or jump start the process in either, you end up with an imitation of your own or someone else's best effects. You will get away with it a few times, but the germs of shame will be there, and inevitably you will end up serving your dinner guests or your reading public mere filigree, plywood gingerbread, M.F.A. musings, housebroken honeycomb, in short, the thief of fire as a college cheerleader." – Jim Harrison

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Postscripts by Salman Rushdie, James Wood, Ian McEwan:




Lionizing, of course, but that’s what one does with genuine lions.

Everyone's entitled to their opinions, Mr. Oliver - however myopic - but your timing was breathtaking in tone-deafness. As was your piece - mean-spirited, self-satisfied, tabloid-thin; your conflating Mr. Amis's leaving his "publisher" (in fact it was his agent) with “cosmetic dental work” (McEwan sets the record straight on that canard) bespeaks a callowness unbecoming a serious person of letters. There are so many other aspects to your screed which italicize the extent to which you are woefully ill-equipped to pass judgement on one of our most original and thrilling voices, but why bother - except to ask: what pleasure can you have possibly derived from this?

Actually, your haste is irrelevant, as the time for a snarky, one-page write-off of a singular body of work is never.

Sayonara, common reader.

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Amen to Nick O'Conner's astute take.

He was one of the few writers I discovered at the beginning, and rode that delirious wave the distance. Yes, there are troughs - no works of any ambition can be entirely faultless - but the peaks of his comic set pieces read like nobody else. The ability, in fiction or non, to make one laugh out loud with words on the page cannot be overrated, or overstated.

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