Martin Amis, 1949-2023

Remembering the iconic British author.

Photo credit: Tom Craig at Bill Charles agency

British author Martin Louis Amis passed away on Friday 19 May, 2023. He was 73. He is survived by his wife, Isabel Fonseca, and his children Louis, Jacob, Fernanda, Clio, and Delilah.

Martin Amis was a novelist, essayist, memoirist, critic, and stylist supreme who, for 40 years, bestrode the world of UK publishing: first by defining what it meant to be a literary wunderkind by releasing his incredible first novel, The Rachel Papers (1973), for Jonathan Cape at just 24; influencing a generation of prose stylists; and often summing up entire eras with his books, perhaps most notably with his 1984 novel, Money. He continually engaged with current events and the contemporary world, never afraid to tackle the biggest issues and questions of the day, in books including The Second Plane (2008) and his essay collection, The Rub of Time (2017).

At the same time his work often explored key periods in history, notably the Holocaust, which he wrote about uniquely and powerfully in novels such as Time’s Arrow (1991) and The Zone of Interest (2014). Throughout it all, his love of literature shone fiercely: Experience (2000), The War Against Cliché (2001) and others all brought a light up to the world he’d inhabited his entire life. 

Born 25 August 1949 in Oxford, Amis was the son of English novelist Kingsley Amis and Hilary Ann Bardwell. After attending a host of different schools in his youth, Amis attended Exeter College, at Oxford University, where he graduated with a congratulatory first in English. Before he published his first novel, in 1973, he worked at the Times Literary Supplement, and at 27 years old joined the New Statesman as their Literary Editor. In 2007, he was appointed as a professor of creative writing at the University of Manchester, before stepping down in 2011.

In his impressive literary career, Amis was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his memoir Experience, and was listed for the Booker Prize twice, including a shortlisting for Time’s Arrow. His works were noted for their dark, wry satire and inventiveness.

It has been a profound privilege and pleasure to be the publisher for Amis: first at Jonathan Cape in 1973, with his explosive debut, The Rachel Papers; then as part of Random House and Vintage; and finally as Penguin Random House, up to and including his most recent book, 2020’s Inside Story.

His UK editor, Michal Shavit, said, “It’s hard to imagine a world without Martin Amis in it. He was the king – a stylist extraordinaire, super cool, a brilliantly witty, erudite and fearless writer, and a truly wonderful man. He has been so important and formative for so many readers and writers over the last half-century. Every time he published a new book it was an event. He will be remembered as one of the greatest writers of his time, and his books will stand the test of time alongside some of his favourite writers: Saul Bellow, John Updike, and Vladimir Nabokov.”

His former UK editor, Dan Franklin, said: “For so many people of my generation, Martin Amis was the one: the coolest, funniest, most quotable, most beautiful writer in the British literary firmament. When I first moved to Cape in 1993 it still seemed, 20 years on from The Rachel Papers, that every young writer wanted to be on the list because Martin was on it. The fact that he was so overlooked for literary prizes only added to his allure. He was fearless in his opinions (although curiously naive about the furore those opinions would provoke in the British press), he wrote inimitable prose and some of the funniest novels you will ever read. The news that he has died is unbearably sad.”

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