January 25, 2010



What is it that McAlpin gets about the new Ferris book that other critics have missed?

Paul T.

How do we get an English translation of the review?

In light of Bloomsbury USA's twice putting white girls on the cover of books written by and about girls of color, is there any reason to expect a future edition of Harry with P Diddy in place of the Count of Monte Cristo?


Matt, McAlpin "gets" the same obvious things that others have gotten -- it's just that in order to praise them, she's willing to overlook the clumsy, unsatisfying execution. Wyatt Mason in Harper's offers a thorough critique.


I also found Mason's review to be one of the most even-handed I've read. I've been especially interested in reviews of this book, to see how others react. I read it last year and found it to be one of those rare books that make me angry; it came with an incredibly interesting premise, and I've read most of Ferris's other published work. At least, enough to get a sense that he's got a thoughtful approach. The disconnect between the possibilities of UNNAMED's premise, and the execution, was infuriating. It made me wonder if Ferris wrote something much larger, more dense, and was told to make it "readable" like his first book.

Whatever the case, that detective was written so poorly, my teeth ached for hours afterward.


Paul, I am working on a translation but here's the last graf for you:

"Mark Sarvas has accomplished a rare thing: he has written that which is never written about. The period of shock which ensues after the death of a loved one, that yawning chasm, full of emptiness--he has managed to both write it and make it funny. We enter the novel just at the moment when the main character deserts his life; we leave it when he returns to it. Harry is "revised and corrected", not because he succeeded in transforming into a modern day Edmond Dantès, but because the man he was lived through one of the most profound upsets of life, namely, that of grief."


Am a bit busy prepping for tomorrow night's class, and so I would ask for a little more time to be able to articulate what is bugging me about the review responses to the Ferris. It's a bit thorny also because we've become friendly, and I want to keep that dimension out of my deliberation, but it has to do with this repeated insistence or expectation that he repeat himself; it feels, in many of these reviews, like he is being punished for having the temerity to try something new. Have not read the Mason yet, will go check it out.

But in the end, I actually think there is a good deal more in common between the two books than people seem to credit - there's a very humane vision of relationships that seems to organize both these works. More soon.


In other news, the Wall Street Journal also announced that John Updike, Ernest Hemingway and Leo Tolstoy are no longer among the living.

Lawrence Tate

I get the feeling that Martin Amis, now about to turn 60, is trying ease himself into the role of Grand Curmudgeon of British Letters that his pa occupied for so long. But his pater would have thought "a medal and a martini" pretty pitiful provocation.

More than 20 years ago in London I was talking with a cool, elegant Swedish blonde - aren't they all? - who worked in the journalistic field in the UK and who told me of a party she'd attended at the home of the Swedish cultural attache the previous week. The guests of honor were a member of the Swedish Academy of Letters, the outfit that gives out the lit-Nobel, and his wife.

Both Amises were there. Kingsley arrived already sloshed and proceeded to insult the Academician's wife so brutally that even the several dozen drunken Brits present were shocked. (I can't remember the exact words, but they started with "you fat cow" according to the CESB.)

As Kingsley was lurching out of the attache's apartment after this effort, Martin caught him at the door. "Dad, it's one thing for you to throw the Nobel away, but why do you have to wreck my chances?" he asked.

"I can't f***in' believe you'd say that," said Kingsley. "You know damn well I taught you the Nobel is for f***in' foreigners, not an Englishman."

"What about Yeats and Shaw?"

"F***in' foreigners and Irish."

"Bertrand Russell?"

"Foreigners, Irish and bloody Bolshies."

"Winston Churchill?

"He was half f***in' Yank, and besides" - and here, according to the CESB, Kingsley's expression suddenly grew gravely serious and his speech less slurred - "it's a proven fact that there is no limit to the degradation a British statesman must be prepared to suffer to serve his country, and Churchill getting that medal from their f***kin' King is proof."

With that the elder Amis walked out.


Martin Amis is slyly stealing a leaf from Michel Houellebecq's playbook. The war of the young against the old is a major theme of all Houellebecq's work, and I'm sure Amis has read it. It's just like the English to look to France for some fresh or notorious new idea, and then forget to attribute the source. Which probably explains the pale, exhausted state of British literature these days.


Martin Amis is slyly taking credit for a Futurama punchline. "Suicide Booths" are a recurring visual gag in many of the show's episodes, and, because I've seen the show recently enough to mentally connect it to this news item, I'm sure Amis must be stealing from it. It's just like the English to look to American cartoons for some fresh or notorious satire, and then forget to attribute the source. Which probably explains the pale, exhausted state of British literature and letters these days.


Pompous (aptly named!) I think the likelihood that Amis reading hot new French writers is much, much higher than that he is watching crap American cartoons.

You can do better. Rewrite your post, but reference the Japanese movie "Ballad of Narayama" instead. Or even "Logan's Run". There. All better.


Has Naipaul died yet? Didn't think so. That being the case, Martin will need to get in line. As will Michel (whom I rate highly).


Indeed, that's a very good review for your book. Can hardly do better. Have you met Miss Georges? Just wondering.

Makes me want to read it. I mean... even more than before.
I'll buy it next time I see it.
And you're welcome.


Have not met her, though I love that she shares my daughter's name ...

Eric Weinberger

Here's the great thing about Australians -- not to mention Australian papers for printing it -- Bryce Courtenay's remark about getting his own stamp:

''It was the king's head on stamps when I was young. Now they just put old shitbags on them.''

Jay Watts III

Are these martini and a medal similar to PD James' Quietus drowning options or more like American death panels? Is anyone truly outraged by Martin Amis saying that? I just read that piece a couple of hours ago and that comment seemed a grumbly little offhand from a man upset about the prospect of aging.

Joelle Biele

Thanks for posting the update about Borders--

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