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Martin Amis: A British author who matches up to some of the American giants (Isabel Fonesca) 

What's in a first name? If you're writing a literary biography of Martin Amis and call him Martin throughout, quite a lot. Assumptions of intimacy negate critical distance, the whole point of the book. Bradford's excuse — that he has to distinguish between Amis senior and junior, and that he'd seen a fair bit of junior when compiling his biography — might just wash, were it not that Amis the younger comes out of it embarrassingly well. Embarrassing, that is, for Martin. 

It would be interesting to know what Amis thought about this. Did Bradford ask permission? In Amis's position I would have refused. If ever an author's reputation stood in need of a no-nonsense, non-matey biography to blow away media froth and straighten out judgments so frequently warped by envy and political resentment, and generally take an objective view, it is his. 

Personally I believe that many of the novels — because that's what we're talking about, isn't it? — would still come out of it pretty well. Maybe the man too, though the English habit of focusing on the performer rather than the performance warps intelligent criticism; Degas was a misanthrope and a virulent anti-Dreyfusard, but look at the pictures. In the light of the wilful fault-finding and scabrous coverage of Amis the man a cooler perspective was overdue. 

As chairman of the Booker Prize judges in 1995 I was amazed by the refusal of three fifths of the panel to admit that The Information (not his best book, admittedly) had any virtue at all. As if in chastisement of the Amis approach to writing a prissily didactic novel won. Against The Ghost Road by Pat Barker, whose First World War hero is a modern paragon-anti-war and a war hero, lower class but well-read and intelligent, and bisexual to boot-Amis's messed-up, woman-harming lead character never stood a chance. 

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February 17th, 2012
4:02 AM
Amis is annoying to read because his ruling passion is to pound his readers about the head with tedious examples of how clever he can be. With his "...if you're reading this sentence in a thousand years..." which can be found about a third of the way into that long slog he so misleadingly called The Information, he boldly admitted to having an insanely high opinion of himself. I took that as a cry for help, felt really sorry for the guy, then stopped reading.

February 15th, 2012
8:02 PM
A well-judged review. Much of the critical sniping at Amis is surely envy: you might have made the point that, above all, Amis is the paramount English stylist of his generation, by some distance, and for the pretenders, that's the talent that really hurts. As for the books as a whole, they are distinctly hit and miss, but in Money he produced the definitive British novel of the past 50 years, and the one book that we can sure will endure. My son, who reads almost no fiction, read the whole of Money in two days when he was 18. That, for me, pretty much sewed up the case for the defence.

Jim Lincoln
February 14th, 2012
9:02 AM
Alas, I remember Amis's maundering contribution to the nuclear disarmament debate. Not to mention his Stalin-was-a-very-bad-man book. 'The American giants'? Who they?

February 14th, 2012
6:02 AM
And what the Hell is "a kind of no-garden of a novel"?

February 14th, 2012
2:02 AM
Yes, what does "smoothichops" mean? What a potentially useful word.

AnonymousCharley B
February 11th, 2012
11:02 PM
forgive my susceptibility to stereotyping, but in what other society in the history of the world would a person be criticized for getting his/her teeth fixed, Sheeeesh! In the end, Mr. Walden tells us more about himself than either his subject or his subject's subject. Zzzzzz

Lee Ronstadt
February 11th, 2012
2:02 PM
What does "smoothiechops" mean? Couldn't find it in any dictionary, including slang.

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