February 22, 2010


(The Other) Niall

On the other hand, Anna Ford has clearly spent twenty-two years nursing a personal grudge and has chosen to air that grudge in the silliest, most random and most undignified manner possible. If I didn't know better, I'd think she was a media invention designed to make Marty look good.

His response says all that needs to be said, I think. Though I do hope there isn't a third salvo coming.


Isn't it marvelous that, at least in the UK, a living writer's life can generate controversy? I can't imagine a living American writer who could generate this kind of public interest.


Oh, any living American writer could generate controversy -- all that's required is some combination of sex and Oprah.


When great authors say stupid things - and they do so all the time - the story belongs to the province of literature and is thus ignored. It is Amis's misfortune to have gone from being thought great to having his work widely ridiculed and scorned. He has thus acquired the irresistible allure of public failure. The story's not about literature (any more than the Tiger Woods story is about golf); that's why it makes news. What's so marvelous about that?


What strikes me is that events from 20 years ago, which involve not an ounce of sex, adultery or drugs, can generate so much attention in the UK. Their bar for scandal seems set very low.

Princess Haiku

lol I have to agree with the comment above mine. It sets a high standard of scandal imo.


Davmul, do you think many thoughtful critics scorn and ridicule his work? I haven't read the reviews of The Pregant Widow yet, because I want to read it myself first, but in general I was under the impression that, Tibor Fischer apart, Amis' reputation as a writer was intact.

Also, this isn't really a scandal, it's fascinating to the public, or rather that unusual subset of the public which reads the Guardian, because Ms Ford (who's really famous over here) is obviously still in great pain about the loss of her husband. I thought Amis semi-apology/mild rebuttal was about as good as it could have been in the circumstances, but Hitchen's intervention today was rhetorically overblown and unforgiveably crass, and no way to treat the widow of a friend.

Michael O'D

I haven't read the Pregnant Widow, but I did notice a glowing review the other week in the Economist that focuses solely on the fiction, rather than the author's many outbursts:

"This is a fine and hilarious book, Martin Amis’s best since 'Money'....Notwithstanding the immoderate animus directed towards him at the time of the substandard 'Yellow Dog', Mr Amis has always been a stimulating writer, and someone who gives a distinctive colouring to certain times in our lives. 'The Pregnant Widow' is Amis at his absolute and unique best."

(The Other) Niall

"I was under the impression that, Tibor Fischer apart, Amis' reputation as a writer was intact."

Well, opinion about his books has always been divided. Some people could never get on with them, and said so. But opinion about his personality, or about him as a literary figure, has always been strongly negative. When his personal life blew up in 1995 (the divorce, the teeth, etc.) the free-floating hostility to him that had always been there found a new focus. People - by which I mean Fleet Street - were delighted he'd fallen from his pedestal. More damagingly, they started reviewing his books through the window of his public persona, as though the novels were autobiography.

Amis is a tool at times, for sure, and his views on Islam, population control and the war on terror have made him a useful idiot to the interventionist right. But he very definitely has been mistreated in the British press.

In 95, for instance, The Sunday Times published a first-hand account of Kingsley Amis's funeral, written by Eric Jacobs. According to this account, Martin spoke slightingly of his father and the only person who cried was his 'alcoholic sister' Sally. This would be mean enough, if true, but Eric Jacobs wasn't even at the funeral to write this first-hand account. This strikes me as indecent behaviour towards Amis (or anyone), and it's not an isolated incident.


Didn't it start earlier? I remember his being savaged in the British press for getting loads of dental work done in the US in the late 80s. How typically, and weirdly, British.

I think the last of his books to get any real attention in the US was "London Fields", and that was a while ago.

(The Other) Niall

Niall -

The teeth was 1995. The rumour was that he'd negotiated a stellar advance (GB£500,000) for The Information in part to pay for a Liberace smile. Whereas the truth was that he had tumours in his jawline: tooth and bone had to come out to get rid of them. And yet you'll still find the Liberace smile thing cited as fact in the press. The way it works is: Martin Amis is pompous and vain, therefore he must have pompously demanded a huge advance to shore up his vanity. QED.

This would be funny (it would be one of the funnier set-pieces in one of his books) if it were an isolated incident. But when he complains about his treatment in the press, he does have a point.


Yes, you're absolutely right timewise. And picking on dental work just reinforces every US belief about British teeth. Makes it seem as though in the UK dentistry is some kind of aristocratic pretension.

Don't you think the UK press is just more combative in general with its subjects than in the US? I kind of admire that. Here there is so much fear of offending a writer, and writers have become so used to that that they go batshit crazy when they encounter even minimally harsh criticism.

(The Other) Niall

I've often wondered how the British press would deal with a native Mailer, or even a native Richard Ford. Imagine how Amis would be treated if he was in the habit of physically spitting at critics or offering them out for a fight. Perhaps better than he currently is.


Oh, but that's a bygone generation. Now writers who get even mildly criticial reviews go crazy on Twitter, publish the reviewer's private phone number, and encourage people to harrass her.

Dale Peck ran into the same spoiled entitlement when he dared to publish a few scathing reviews at the beginning of the last decade (of Rick Moody in particular). He was pretty much hounded into silence for his impertinence.

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