The best Martin Amis books
An overview of five of the best Martin Amis novels ahead of writer's appearance at 2014 Edinburgh Book Festival
This article is from 2014.
The novel that defined a decade, Money is a sustained, exuberant, and viciously funny assault on the excesses of the 1980s and the hollow promises of late 20th-century capitalism. Narrated by one of the great comic grotesques of English literature, the odyssey of John Self through a disintegrating London and a dazzling New York as he loses himself in a blizzard of fast food, fast sex, pornography, booze and drugs is a tour de force. Behind the frenetic and hyper-inventive prose style, Money's tale of paranoia and shifting identities also acts as a profound metafictional exploration of the nature of writers, writing, character and voice.
For a writer to tackle the Holocaust with anything less than total reverence is to take an enormous moral and artistic risk, one that Amis takes here with extraordinary results. Narrated by a voice that acts like the numbed conscience of its central character, a Nazi doctor, Amis's most experimental book hinges on a bold conceit, that time has been inverted and is moving backwards. Amis constructs a world where the death camps are part of a vast benevolent system, and where the ovens act like birthing chambers bringing a whole race back to life from the ashes. By twisting the perspective like this, he reminds us of the true obscenity of the Holocaust more powerfully than could any more conventional narrative.
Formally inventive, very funny, and at times surprisingly moving, this memoir gives a frank perspective on Amis's late-1990s notoriety (including his extensively misreported dental surgery), but its real power comes from its exploration of a terrible absence; the abduction and murder of his cousin Lucy Partington by the serial killers Fred and Rosemary West. Including a moving account of his relationship with his father, Kingsley Amis, and his discovery of a daughter he never knew he had, Amis's emotional engagement here provides a charge that is often lacking in his fiction.
This collection of essays and reviews is a masterclass in literary criticism; insightful, engaging and entertaining all at once, Amis treats the use and abuse of language as almost a moral issue. His close reading as a critic also gives some insight into his methods as a novelist, someone who can stare at the world and see the strangeness and contingency that underpins it.
With the sexual revolution in full swing, a group of young people on the cusp of adulthood decamp to an Italian castle for the summer; but as Keith Neering will eventually discover, every revolution has its share of victims. What starts out as an entertaining romp becomes something more poignant and compassionate, as Keith discovers the vast country of our youth declining to a narrow and confined late-middle age. This isn't an entirely successful novel, and the inclusion of a militant Islamic theme towards the end doesn't cohere in the slightest, but its tenderness and human insight is certainly new for Amis, and points to what could be a fascinating and unexpected direction in his later work.