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Will Self on Martin Amis

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For all the controversy around his books and his fees and what people assume were his attitudes to women, says Will Self on Radio 4’s Broadcasting House, Martin Amis was a “gentle soul”. As a writer, he brought things into the light – “with a very supple and brilliant prose line” – that most people don’t want to think about: the “weirdness of sex”, say, or “bodily dissolution”. There was something about his grasp of the “organicism of life” that “hadn’t quite been felt the way he put it into English prose”. For his readers, that “visceral quality” was what they loved. Some critics disagreed, but then, some people “want a novel to be Jane Austen. All the time.”

The strange thing since he died is that “it’s just been lovely to hear his voice” on the radio. It can come across in broadcast a little de haut en bas – essentially “talking down” – but in person he was “marvellously wry”. I remember seeing him after an interview with a journalist from The Observer over a game of tennis. When I asked him how it went, he said, damningly: “Well, you know. He was a Tim.” Another time, I saw him after he had spent a week with Tony Blair. Again, I asked him how it had gone. Amis paused for a while and said: “Well, I’ll tell you one thing: he’s not a reader.”

🦖📚 Amis abhorred clichés, says David Patrikarakos in UnHerd. One of his pet hates was Michael Crichton’s dinosaur epic, The Lost World, in which, he wrote, the reader encounters “herds of clichés, roaming free. You will listen in ‘stunned silence’ to an ‘unearthly cry’ or a ‘deafening roar’.” His aversion to this kind of writing was almost pathological. In his own writing, he used “modifiers” which he unmoored from their usual contexts. So we get “gentle coma” and “grim approval” and “glare of congeniality”. It was all part of Amis’s effort to force the reader to rethink first principles – to see the world afresh.