A Sunday Times / Times Literary Supplement Book of the Year
Of all the great novelists writing today, none shows the same gift as Martin Amis for writing non-fiction – his essays, literary criticism and journalism are justly acclaimed. As Rachel Cusk wrote in the The Times, reviewing a previous collection, ‘Amis is as talented a journalist as he is a novelist, but these essays all manifest an unusual extra quality, one that is not unlike friendship. He makes an effort; he makes readers feel that they are the only person there.’
The essays in The Rub of Time range from superb critical pieces on Amis’s heroes Nabokov, Bellow and Larkin to brilliantly funny ruminations on sport, Las Vegas, John Travolta and the pornography industry. The collection includes his essay on Princess Diana and a tribute to his great friend Christopher Hitchens, but at the centre of the book, perhaps inevitably, are essays on politics, and in particular the American election campaigns of 2012 and 2016. One of the very few consolations of Donald Trump’s rise to power is that Martin Amis is there to write about him.
Shortlisted for the 2015 Walter Scott Prize
'Surely his masterpiece… Intelligent, terrifying and comic… Amis has tackled the biggest questions with imagination and intelligence, and the ultimate strength of this masterly novel is that he knows, and shows, that although there is no answer to the questions Auschwitz poses, we must never stop asking them. Read it, ponder it – revel in it indeed – then read it again.'
Allan Massie, Scotsman
There was an old story about a king who asked his favourite wizard to create a magic mirror. This mirror didn’t show you your reflection. Instead, it showed you your soul – it showed you who you really were. But the king couldn’t look into the mirror without turning away, and nor could his courtiers. No one could.
What happens when we discover who we really are? And how do we come to terms with it? Fearless and original, The Zone of Interest is a violently dark love story set against a backdrop of unadulterated evil, and a vivid journey into the depths and contradictions of the human soul.
Everyone is always out there searching for someone and something, usually for a lover, usually for love. And this is a love story.
But the murderee - Nicola Six - is searching for something and someone else: her murderer. She knows the time, she knows the place, she knows the motive, she knows the means. She just doesn't know the man.
London Fields is a brilliant, funny and multi-layered novel. It is a book in which the narrator, Samson Young, enters the Black Cross, a thoroughly undesirable public house, and finds the main players of his drama assembled, just waiting to begin. It's a gift of a story from real life...all Samson has to do is write it as it happens.
‘Why aren’t you out smashing windows? It’s not healthy’
Lionel Asbo - a very violent but not very successful criminal - has always looked out for his nephew, Desmond Pepperdine. He gives him fatherly advice (carry a knife) and introduces him to the joys of Internet porn. Des, on the other hand, desires nothing more than books, a girl to love and to steer clear Uncle Li’s psychotic pitbulls, Joe and Jeff.
Lionel is going about his morning duties in a London prison when he learns that he has just won £139,999,999.50 on the National Lottery. This is not necessarily good news for Des who has a secret that could unleash his uncle’s implacable vengeance.
Summer, 1970. Sex is very much on everyone's mind.
The girls are acting like boys and the boys are going on acting like boys. Keith Nearing - a bookish twenty-year-old, in that much disputed territory between five foot six and five foot seven - is on holiday and struggling to twist feminism towards his own ends. Torn between three women, his scheming doesn't come off quite as he expects.
Fuelled by innumerable cigarettes, Martin Amis provides dazzling portraits of contemporaries and mentors alike: Larkin and Rushdie; Greene and Pritchett; Ballard and Burgess and Nicholson Baker; John Updike - warts and all. Vigorously zipping across to Washington, he exposes the double-think of nuke-speak; in New Orleans the Republican Convention gets a going over. And then there's sport: he visits the world of darts and its disastrous attempt to clean itself up; dirty tricks in the world of chess; and some brisk but vicious poker with Al Alvarez and David Mamet.
Sex without Madonna, expulsion from school, a Stones gig that should have been gagged, on set with Robocop or on court with Gabriela Sabatini, this is Martin Amis at his electric best.
Martin Amis first wrote about September 11 a week later in a piece for The Guardian beginning, 'It was the advent of the second plane, sharking in low over the Statue of Liberty: that was the defining moment.'
He has kept returning to September 11, in essays and reviews, and in two remarkable short stories, 'In the Palace of the End' and 'The Last Days of Muhammad Atta'. All are collected here, together with an expanded account of his travels with Tony Blair in 2007 - to Belfast, to Washington, and to Baghdad and Basra.
'We are arriving at an axiom in long-term thinking about international terrorism,' he writes: 'the real danger lies, not in what it inflicts, but in what it provokes. Thus by far the gravest consequence of September 11, to date, is Iraq... Meanwhile, September 11 continues, it goes on, with all its mystery, its instability, and its terrible dynamism.'
There were conjugal visits in the slave camps of the USSR. Valiant women would travel continental distances, over weeks and months, in the hope of spending a night, with their particular enemy of the people, in the House of Meetings. The consequences of these liaisons were almost invariably tragic.
House of Meetings is about one such liaison. It is a triangular romance: two brothers fall in love with the same girl, a nineteen-year-old Jewess, in Moscow, which is poised for pogrom in the gap between the war and the death of Stalin. Both brothers are arrested, and their rivalry slowly complicates itself over a decade in the slave camp above the Arctic Circle.
At the age of ten, when Martin Amis spent a year in Princeton, New Jersey, he was excited and frightened by America. As an adult he has approached that confusing country from many arresting angles, and interviewed its literati, filmmakers, thinkers, opinion makers, leaders and crackpots with characteristic discernment and wit.
Included in a gallery of Great American Novelists are Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal, Truman Capote, Joseph Heller, William Burroughs, Kurt Vonnegut, John Updike, Paul Theroux, Philip Roth and Saul Bellow. Amis also takes us to Dallas, where presidential candidate Ronald Reagan is attempting to liaise with born-again Christians. We glimpse the beau monde of Palm Beach, where each couple tries to out-Gatsby the other, and examine the case of Claus von Bulow. Steven Spielberg gets a visit, as does Brian de Palma, whom Amis asks why his films make no sense, and Hugh Hefner's sybaritic fortress and sanitised image are penetrated.
There can be little that escapes the eye of Martin Amis when his curiosity leads him to a subject, and America has found in him a superlative chronicler.
When 'dream husband' Xan Meo is vengefully assaulted in the garden of a London pub, he suffers head-injury, and personality-change. Like a spiritual convert, the familial paragon becomes an anti-husband, an anti-father. He submits to an alien moral system - one among many to be found in these pages.
We are introduced to the inverted worlds of the 'yellow' journalist, Clint Smoker; the high priest of hardmen, Joseph Andrews; the porno tycoon, Cora Susan; and Royce Traynor, the corpse in the hold of the stricken airliner, apparently determined, even in death, to bring down the plane that carries his spouse. Meanwhile, we explore the entanglements of Henry England: his incapacitated wife, Pamela; his Chinese mistress, He Zizhen; his fifteen-year-old daughter, Victoria, the victim of a filmed 'intrusion' which rivets the world - because she is the future Queen of England, and her father, Henry IX, is its King.
Koba the Dread is the successor to Amis's celebrated memoir, Experience. It addresses itself to the central lacuna of twentieth-century thought: the indulgence of communism by Western intellectuals. In between the personal beginning and the personal ending, Amis gives us perhaps the best one hundred pages ever written about Stalin: Koba the Dread, Iosif the Terrible.
The author's father, Kingsley Amis, was 'a Comintern dogsbody' (as he would come to put it) from 1941 to 1956. His second-closest, and later in life his closest friend, was Robert Conquest, whose book The Great Terror was second only to Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago in undermining the USSR. Amis's remarkable memoir explores these connections.
Stalin said that the death of one person was tragic, the death of a million a mere 'statistic'. Koba the Dread, during whose course the author absorbs a particular, a familial death, is a rebuttal of Stalin's aphorism.
Time's Arrow tells the story, backwards, of the life of Nazi war criminal, Doctor Tod T. Friendly. He dies and then feels markedly better, breaks up with his lovers as a prelude to seducing them and mangles his patients before he sends them home...
Escaping from the body of the dying doctor who had worked in Nazi concentration camps, the doctor's consciousness begins living the doctor's life backwards.
Like John Updike, Martin Amis is the pre-eminent novelist-critic of his generation. The War Against Cliché is a selection of his reviews and essays over the past quarter-century. It contains pieces on Cervantes, Milton, Donne, Coleridge, Jane Austen, Dickens, Kafka, Philip Larkin, Joyce, Waugh, Lowry, Nabokov, F. R. Leavis, V. S. Pritchett, William Burroughs, Anthony Burgess, Angus Wilson, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Shiva and V. S. Naipaul, Kurt Vonnegut, Iris Murdoch, Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal, Don DeLillo, Elmore Leonard, Michael Crichton, Thomas Harris - and John Updike.
Other subjects include chess, nuclear weapons, masculinity, screen censorship, juvenile violence, Andy Warhol, Hillary Clinton, and Margaret Thatcher.
Like a ghost or a fugitive, Mary roams through London - pursuing and pursued by memory and forgetting, by the compelling Amy Hide and the charming Mr Wrong...
Martin Amis sustains an unnervingly high degree of suspense as Mary and the reader yearn to grasp what has happened to Mary's past and ponder what its loss has gained her. Unfolding is a metaphysical thriller where jealousy guarded secrets jostle with startling insights. Other People is ambitious and accomplished, heralding for Amis an unexpected new direction as a novelist and for the rest of us an experience not to be missed.