the thing about martin amis

So I’m reading Martin Amis, because we all have to at one point or other. For some reason considered part of today’s ‘canon’, his name gets thrown around with the likes of Ian McEwan and Julian Barnes, company that should already set the alarm bells ringing.

I’m a good way through The Pregnant Widow and have to admit that I’m enjoying it, but every few pages I find myself wondering why I persevere. With an author who is so wholly devoted to preening himself into every loveable character flaw and over-played visual, I feel I’m reading a stylised self-portrait of Amis himself and not a purported work of fiction.

A quick perusal of other sources assures me I’m not alone in this attitude. Indeed, from the comments section of this article, it becomes clear that if you’re an Amis fan, than you’re devout to the point of tunnel-vision. Also, you are a white, anglo-saxon, middle-aged male who, despite his sagging skin, considers himself able to woo the blondest woman in close proximity.

One commenter bristles at the suggestion that his hero is ridden with cliché. Where does this resolute loyalty come from? Because a passing glance at Money (Amis’s apparent masterpiece), with a plot about the dangers of excess from a narrator who works in the porn industry, puts me in mind of, say…Bright Lights, Big City; The Line of Beauty; The Wolf of Wall Street; Wall Street; The Patrick Melrose Trilogy; Cosmopolis; Less Than Zero; even American Psycho. But, clearly, because it’s Amis, it’s original.

So back to the Widow. Here we have the protagonist, more observant than the usual twenty-year-old literature student, who muses on female proportions and linguistic etymologies at least once per conversation, and who is spending the summer in 1970 in an Italian castle with two blondes. Get the picture?

At one point he has a startling epiphany of profound moral depth and realises that this summer could signify the very awaking of his carnal identity, the “climax of his youth”! Will he be swayed by his friend’s attractive gay lover, or the sheep in the fields, or an aged mother, or the twelve-year-old adopted Mexican girl?? Oh, the possibilities for sexual and literary inventiveness!

What a surprise when it turns out to be the blonde goddess who sunbathes topless. Sigh.


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