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The comic genius of Martin Amis

Amis in 1987: he “lived to see himself fall out of fashion”. Ulf Andersen/Getty

There was a time when Martin Amis was the “epitome of literary chic”, says Jake Kerridge in The Sunday Telegraph. Carrie Bradshaw read his novels in bed in Sex and the City; publishers paid “astronomical advances” for his books; no clever young writer could escape the accusation of “operating under the influence of Amis”. But the novelist, who has died aged 73, “lived to see himself fall out of fashion”. The muscular views he expressed about Muslims after 9/11 “horrified the bien pensants”, and a persistent grumble of “supposed misogyny” – characters extensively discussing which of Jane Austen’s heroines had the biggest breasts, for example – is perhaps the reason why, unlike his literary chums (Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, Julian Barnes, Kazuo Ishiguro), he never won the Booker Prize.

But if Amis’s humour doesn’t suit our times, that is our loss. “He was a great comedian.” The exuberant, over-the-top caricatures of “lager-quaffing low-lifes”, like the eponymous yob Lionel Asbo, were sad victims of the contemporary taste for immersive “realism”. As his career progressed and he felt compelled to tackle such “non-rib-tickling” subjects as nuclear armageddon (Einstein’s Monsters) and the Holocaust (Time’s Arrow), there was a sense that “the more profound he tried to be, the emptier his books seemed”. He appeared anxious not to turn into his father, the novelist Kingsley Amis, who took the unfashionable view that “importance isn’t important: good writing is”. How “horribly ironic” that Amis died at 73, the same age at which Kingsley went in 1995. It seems to confirm one of his biggest fears: the perception that “heredity determined the course of his life and career”.