January 27, 2010



He's turning into Gore Vidal. A very, very stupid Gore Vidal.


I've only read one Martin Amis book, "Night Train." It was pretty bad.

Gary Anderson

Does anybody still take this guy seriously?

Nicholas Richards

What a prat! He used to be someone who the British literati looked up to but now he's just a clapped-out 60 year old former enfant terrible with delusions of grandeur. At his best - Money, London Fields, Other People, The Information, his essay collections - he writes brilliantly but when he starts bagging Nabokov(as he did in his recent Guardian article) and Philip Roth for not writing as well in old age as in their youth I think he's talking more about himself than anyone else. He's beginning to sound like a possible candidate for one of his proposed "suicide booths".

(The Other) Niall

Marty has a longstanding suspicion of writers whose prose doesn't seem open to accident, play or conspicuous humour. As literary prejudices go, I think there are far worse; though I always wondered why JG Ballard escaped Amis's whip, given the reams of deadened prose he produced. Perhaps it's the intrinsic fantastical elements of all Ballard's work.

In the case of Coetzee, though, I suspect the objection is at bottom ideological. Amis objects to writers who don't show at least a tiny urge to cuddle the world. I saw him talk about Beckett once, whom he says he hates: "not because I don't think he's any good, but because he presents the very fact of life as a farce, in maximally ugly prose. Also because he can't see the worth of children." Well, Beckett does present life as a farce. And we can argue about the ugliness of the prose. But what you're basically objecting to is that he sees life differently to you - and that's a personal rather than literary objection. I think it might be something similar with Amis and Coetzee.

Nicholas Richards

I don't think I'd characterise Amis as someone with a great love of children - not on the evidence of his books anyway. Mind you he seems to have a few of his own. To say Beckett has "ugly prose" is to miss the point somewhat. Especially from someone with such a bleak view of life himself. Where in the novels does he actually show any true love or feelings towards any of his characters? His books are all fundamentally satires where showing well-rounded likeable people is never any issue. I mean - who wants to shake John Self's hand?

Martha Southgate

Think of his upbringing--the worst kind of repressed, denying, depressing, alcoholic British childhood. Maybe he's just speaking from earlier wounds. Not a defense of stupid public remarks--just an observation.

(The Other) Niall

"Especially from someone with such a bleak view of life himself. Where in the novels does he actually show any true love or feelings towards any of his characters?"

Children have a symbolic place in pretty much all his novels: if a child disappears or is abused or killed, that child stands for Innocence That The Adult World Has Destroyed. The converse is also true: everyone at the end of London Fields is utterly destroyed, except for Keith Talent's baby daughter, Kim.

But I don't think his own bleakness is something that Amis has ever taken an assessing look at.


Maybe I haven't drank enough TEV kool-aid, but I don't think Coetzee's books are all that great either.

Maybe it's just me. But I love a writer willing to call others out, instead of all the insular "I'll blurb your book and you blurb mine" crap that dominates 99% of literature in the USA.

I haven't cracked Summertime yet, though. We'll see.


Beckett has beautiful prose! Let's get that straight. "Bluer scarcely than white of egg the eyes stare into the space before them, namely the fulness of the great deep and its unchanging calm." Just for example, that's from "Malone Dies." It's precisely because Beckett's prose is so beautiful and his humor and humanity is never far away that the deadly serious misery in his work never stops being amazingly artful.


I think he also illustrates a big difference between UK and US culture. In the UK it's very common to bash others to make a point about yourself. In the US, at least among writers, it seems Oprah-esque mutual affirmation is the expected norm. Perhaps Amis needs to get a column in the NY Times Book Review, and start going after our own local pampered mediocrities. Then he might be interesting to read.


I haven't read anything by Amis, but much by Coetzee, and always with pleasure!
Hardie -- www.Mountaintop.be

Gary Anderson

I will admit that in "War on Cliche" he makes some valid points, albeit in his characteristically cruel manner. But that was before he left the realm of the literary and ventured out into the real world (where he proceeded to be lambasted). Now it would seem, he has seen fit to return to his comfort zone (and in the process making everyone else uncomfortable).

Andy Pederson

Perhaps it's the cynic in me, but all the salvos from Camp Amis seem to be arriving shortly before THE PREGNANT WIDOW is set to hit bookstores. And since no press is bad press, and Martin, not willing to do anything worthy of good press does this instead. Timing is everything.


The Sunday Times reviewed "The Pregnant Widow", and it's not pretty.



I've read three by Coetzee and don't quite see it myself. Whereas I thought Amis's Time's Arrow was brilliant conceptually--though maybe that's the problem with both of them. They're high-concept and low on
the credibility scale. In Disgrace, I was willing to believe the hero really wanted to write an opera based on the life of Byron, until he beat the concept all to hell and went on and on with it and then it became not only hard to believe in but boring. And another distraction. Filler. When he kept it visceral, on the farm or in the bedroom, it worked better. But by the end I felt and thought nothing except the author's hand. I jogged through the first 100 pages of The
Information but didn't read the last 100. Amis is right: what if Coetzee had a sense of humor? And what if Amis had a better
thought-out one?

Peter G

Here's a link to the interview:


Here's the Coetzee exchange:

MA: Coetzee, for instance—his whole style is predicated on transmitting absolutely no pleasure.

TC: Do you admire his books at all?

MA: No. I read one and I thought, he’s got no talent. The denial of the pleasure principle has a lot of followers. But I am completely committed to it, to pleasure.

TC: Why have people felt the need to do this to the novel: is this puritanical?

MA: Dryden said, literature is instruction and delight, and there are people who think that if they’re not getting delight then they are getting a lot of instruction, when in fact they’re not getting that either. But it has a sort of of gloomy constituency. If there is no pleasure transmitted then I’m not interested. I mean, look at them all: Dickens, George Eliot, Jane Austen, Smollet, Fielding, they’re all funny. All the good ones are funny. Richardson isn’t, and he’s no good. Dostoyevsky is funny: The Double is a scream. Tolstoy is funny by being just so wonderfully true and pure. Gogol, funny. Flaubert, funny. Dickens. All the good ones are funny.


Interesting similarity between key complaints in this review and Kakutani's review of Delillo's new book, namely, both writers are tired; they visit old topics without new energy or insights; and their characters spend a lot of time making pronouncements.

Peter G

That may be so that Amis is tired and has nothing left to say. I can't speak my own thoughts on this, as no one in the US will have read the book yet, much less reviewed it. And I'm not sure of the difference in Martin's reviews in the UK versus the US, and whether his public persona in the UK has an effect (if so, negative) on his overall reviews there.

Nevertheless, here's a positive review of his new book in the Guardian:


Chris S

His comments about Coetzee were out of line and off base, but I like his statement about Tolstoy. Not a new sentiment certainly, but well put.

John C

In "The War on Cliche" I came away with the idea that Amis thought Ballard's work cliche and monotone. When Ballard died Amis wrote the literary giant eulogy. ? I've enjoyed reading the Information, truly some very funny stuff, but he tries too hard to make every sentence a high-wire act in metaphor.

The comments to this entry are closed.


  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."


  • The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald


    Penelope Fitzgerald's second novel is the tale of Florence Green, a widow who seeks, in the late 1950s, to bring a bookstore to an isolated British town, encountering all manner of obstacles, including incompetent builders, vindictive gentry, small minded bankers, an irritable poltergeist, but, above all, a town that might not, in fact, want a bookshop. Fitzgerald's prose is spare but evocative – there's no wasted effort and her work reminds one of Hemingway's dictum that every word should fight for its right to be on the page. Florence is an engaging creation, stubbornly committed to her plan even as uncertainty regarding the wisdom of the enterprise gnaws at her. But The Bookshop concerns itself, finally, with the astonishing vindictiveness of which provincials are capable, and, as so much English fiction must, it grapples with the inevitabilities of class. It's a dense marvel at 123 pages, a book you won't want to – or be able to – rush through.
  • The Rider by Tim Krabbe


    Tim Krabbé's superb 1978 memoir-cum-novel is the single best book we've read about cycling, a book that will come closer to bringing you inside a grueling road race than anything else out there. A kilometer-by-kilometer look at just what is required to endure some of the most grueling terrain in the world, Krabbé explains the tactics, the choices and – above all – the grinding, endless, excruciating pain that every cyclist faces and makes it heart-pounding rather than expository or tedious. No writer has better captured both the agony and the determination to ride through the agony. He's an elegant stylist (ably served by Sam Garrett's fine translation) and The Rider manages to be that rarest hybrid – an authentic, accurate book about cycling that's a pleasure to read. "Non-racers," he writes. "The emptiness of those lives shocks me."