Mors Vincit Omnia: Martin Amis

I’m saddened by the news of Martin Amis’s death. Like many around my age, I discovered Amis through Time’s Arrow, a book I still maintain is remarkable in ways far beyond the “gimmick” of its reversed narrative. From there I read just about everything as it came out, occasionally with—from a creative point of view—near agonistic intensity. How did he do that, I kept asking myself, both amazed at his style and angry that I hadn’t been blessed with anything like it.

There are valid criticisms of Amis’s work, particularly some of his early novels’ depictions of differences between the way the men and women think and communicate (easy to forgive), and Islamophobia (a problematic term, as fellow traveler Christopher Hitchens observed, but nonetheless a real strain in some of Amis’s later writing). But one knock I will not countenance is that Amis was all style and no substance. Nothing could be further from the truth for Amis, as with Nabokov, who was equally—and equally wrongly—accused of the same thing by readers who can do better. Amis’s fictional worlds—and to some degree, as evidenced by his memoirs and reviews, his real world—were often characterized by recognizing the dark heart permanently twinned with the light one. His sometimes caustic, satiric style was, despite its consistent erudition and humor, too easy a target for some readers’ fixations.

At any rate, Amis was a bona fide literary rock star (which he apparently mostly hated) with an inimitable, unmistakable style and a scathing, fascinating, intellect. There’s no good way to capture this in a short space, but I am nonetheless dropping here a few bits of Amis culled from my commonplace books, in rough order of my affection for the titles they come from.