Posted by: chartroose | February 4, 2008

The Prose and Cons of Martin Amis


I promised myself when I began posting on this new blog about a month ago that I wouldn’t do this–I wouldn’t let it consume so much of my life that I start to find it difficult to do anything else.  Well, looky here.  Ever since reading about the new Amis book (The Second Plane) on John Self’s excellent blog:, I’ve been obsessing about all things Amis.  Dammit!  Now I’ll have to write something about him, even though I don’t have anything earth-shattering to say.

I really liked Amis way back when.  His novels disturbed me and made me guffaw at the same time.  Nothing delights me more than a well-turned phrase, and Amis was the undisputed master of the written word during the ’80’s and ’90’s.  Love him or hate him–you had to admire his literary chops. 

My favorite Amis novel is Success, even though it’s incredibly misogynistic and self-congratulatory.  (I could picture Amis smirking and snickering malevolently while writing some of the more visceral phrases contained in this little novel).  The book is totally nasty, and absolutely perfect.  I hated Gregory and Terence and their rotten little attitudes and the disgusting way(s) in which they dealt with their lives but I absolutely adored this novel.  It’s another one of those psuedo-nihilistic “to hell with the world” books that make me sigh with pleasure. 

I’ve also read London Fields (excellent) Money (very good) and Yellow Dog (confusing).  I think he was trying too hard when he was writing Yellow Dog.  The youthful anger seemed to be gone.  He’d lost his edge.

I looked up a few things about Amis today.  I know there are many people out there who can’t stand his arrogance, but I’ve always looked at him as kind of a demented prophet.  It seems like a great deal of what he has said in the past has been pretty accurate. 

Here are a few Amis snippets from the early 1990’s:

“The theme that the good is gone is as old as literature.  Everything has been cheapened; the accumulation of experience is causing decay.”

“I think there is a lot of romaticism in my work, but it’s thwarted by distortion and perversity, false commercial images in TV, literature, porn…Like Philip Larkin’s poetry, love is conspicuous by its absence.” 

I won’t be reading The Second Plane.  The old Martin Amis that I knew and loved is gone.  I don’t want to ruin my memories of him.



  1. Fiction-wise, I’ve only read Time’s Arrow, which took me a while to get used to, because of the notable concept of everything happening in reverse. I do have Money, Yellow Dog, and House Of Meetings on the shelf, but think I’d rather just start right back at the start with Amis.

    Aside from the fiction I’ve read The War Agains Cliche, in which can be found Amis’ well known (and lengthy) review tearing Hannibal by Thomas Harris to shreads. It’s a joy to read:

    ‘Beautifully written…the webs of imagery that Harris has so carefully woven…contains writing of which our best writers would be proud…there is not a single ugly or dead sentence…’ – or so sang the critics. Hannibal is a genre novel, and all genre novels contain dead sentences – unless you feel the throb of life in such periods as ‘Tommaso put the lid back on the cooler’ or ‘Eric Pickford answered’ or ‘Pazzi worked like a man possessed’ or ‘Margot laughed in spite of herself’ or ‘Bob Sneed broke the silence’. What these commentators and literary editors must be thinking of, I suppose, are the bits where Harris goes all blubbery and portentous (every other phrase a spare tyre), or when, with a fugitive poeticism, he swoons us into a dying fall: ‘Starling looked for a moment through the wall, past the wall, out to forever and composed herself…’ ‘It seemed forever ago…’ ‘He looked deep, deep into her eyes…’ ‘His dark eyes held her whole…’ Needless to say, Harris has become a serial murderer of English sentences, and Hannibal is a necropolis of prose.

  2. Wonderful critique! Like you, I think I’m going to have to begin at the beginning with Amis and read some of his nonfiction while I’m at it. Maybe I should try “The Second Plane” too. So much to read, so little time!

  3. […] and I quote: “Nothing delights me more than a well-turned phrase,” […]

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