Compilation – 2023. May 25
Martin Amis died on Friday, May 19, at his home in Lake Worth, Florida. His wife, fellow writer Isabel Fonseca, revealed that the cause of death was esophageal cancer. Amis was one of the most influential English writers of the second half of the twentieth century. He belonged to a celebrated group of novelists, including Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan and Julian Barnes, whose works defined British literary life in the 1980s and 90s, writes The Guardian in its compilation of the author.
Martin Amis was born in 1949 in Oxford. He studied in British, Spanish and American schools, then graduated from Exeter College in Oxford. After that, he worked as an editor for various literary magazines. His first novel was published in 1973 The Rachel Papers at address. Two years later, he had already written his second book, a Dead Babiest, from which a film adaptation was later made. However, he gained real recognition only after: first a Success with his novel (which was translated into Hungarian by Mihály Falvay ten years after its original publication, in 1987), and the one that appears shortly after Moneyzel (which was also translated by Mihály Falvay), which Robert McCrum selected as one of the 100 best English-language novels on The Guardian’s list. In his criticism, McCrum explained his choice by saying that a Money “it was a book of the zeitgeist, which became one of the defining novels of the 1980s”. He then added: “A Money his excitement, turbocharged with cruel humor from the first to the last page, is Amis’s profligate joy in the contemporary Anglo-American vernacular”.
Martin Amis in 1975 – Photo: Express / Getty Images
It is important to note that Martin’s father was also a successful writer. Kingsley Amis’s first novel was published in 1954 when his son was five years old (A Lucky Jim the book Lucky bastard translated into Hungarian by János Komlós at Just over thirty years later, in 1986, Kingsley won the Booker Prize for best novel in the English language (Martin never received the accolade, although he was nominated twice). Martin has spoken in several places about the burdens that his father was also a writer put on him (for example here). And how the literary public received all this, he explained, among other things, in his interview with Magyar Narancs: “Ours is a rare case. Writers usually come from nowhere. The parent should be a teacher or an accountant, and that’s fine either way, it’s fair that way. However, I did not come from nowhere. Not even remotely. What could have happened was that my father and I were taken under the same hat. This is Amis, that is Amis, and over time these Amis became a bit much. People have had enough of us, their patience has run out. I was five years old when my father’s first novel was published, then I came along, and from then until my father’s death it seemed as if two novels by this Amis were published every year.”
Father and son – Photo: PA Images / Alamy
In the same interview – which also talks about the 2016 US presidential election, literary scandals, anti-Semitism and writing about tennis – Amis says that he has always been interested in extremes, the top and bottom of society. “If there is a segment of society that does not appear in my novels, it is the middle class. I had the royal family, I had the criminal world, but I left the middle class to others. I don’t think they should complain about me neglecting them, because almost everyone besides me doesn’t write about anything other than the headaches of the middle class,” he said. Accordingly, he also dealt with several topics affecting the fringes of society, for example he wrote a report on the American porn industry. And the experiences gained during the research were incorporated by the Yellow Dog in his novel published in 2003.
In addition to writing novels and journalism, Martin Amis also wrote screenplays (he contributed, for example, to Space base number three in the Kirk Douglas film), as well as essays, a memoir (Experience his famous memoir was published in 2000) and historical books. It belongs to the latter category Koba the Terror: Laughter and the Twenty Million his historical book about Stalin’s terror, which caused a great literary debate when it was published in 2002. The reason for this, among others, was that Amis accused the writer Christopher Hitchens of sympathizing with Stalin and communism. with whom they had been good friends since their twenties. Hitchens responded to the accusations with an article published in The Atlantic. Their friendship was seemingly unaffected by the controversy, as Amis said in a 2007 interview with the Independent that they never had to reconcile. “We had a grown-up exchange of opinions, mostly in print, and that was it (more precisely, that’s what it was after). My friendship with Hitch has always been perfectly fine.” Hitchens died in 2011, also of esophageal cancer. Amis gave the eulogy at his funeral.
Martin Amis in 1987 – Photo: Ulf Andersen / Getty Images
The history of Stalinism was later elaborated by House of meetings also his novel (which was originally published in 2006, translated into Hungarian in 2008 by Zoltán Pék). We even published an excerpt from this book in Litera at the time, you can find it here. But in addition to communism, he also dealt with other historically key topics and eras. For example, it processed the events of the Holocaust Arrow of time, or the nature of hurt (which was published in Hungarian in 2012 in the translation of Dóra Elekes) or a The Zone of Interest (2014) in his novels.
The writer did not avoid scandals later either, in 2006, for example, he was accused of Islamophobia after saying about Muslims: “What can we do to make them pay a big price if they do this? There is a definite drive in man – is there not in you? – to say: “The Muslim community must suffer until it puts its own house in order”. What kind of suffering am I talking about? Not letting them travel. Deportation – if there is no other way. Restriction of freedoms. Thoroughly bashing people who look like they are Middle Eastern or Pakistani… Discriminatory stuff until the whole community starts to get hurt by it and they finally start being tough on their kids…” Interview with Ginny Dougary after the conversation, a great series of discussions took place, and the writer later retracted his claims in an interview in 2021: “of course I regretted what I said; already that afternoon I stopped believing in what I said”.
“It has been a profound privilege and pleasure to be his publisher,” Vintage Books said in a statement Saturday evening expressing its sadness at the death of its author. “Martin Amis has been at the forefront of British book publishing for forty years: he first defined what it means to be a literary prodigy when he published his first novel aged just 24; influenced a whole generation of prose stylists; and he often summarized entire eras with his books, perhaps most notably the Money with his classic novel”, they wrote.
Martin Amis in 1995 – Photo by David Levenson / Getty Images
“He was brutally intelligent – and very funny,” writer William Boyd described him in his obituary published in The Guardian. Boyd recalled how they met: “I first met him in Paris in 1969, when we both shared the same apartment for a few days on the Île Saint-Louis. I was 17, Martin was 20. I only found out who this Martin was four years later, when his first novel, The The Rachel Papers. In a strange but real sense, he was the first writer I met. And that’s how the acquaintance began: me as an avid reader, and later as a friend.” According to William Boyd, Amis is one of the few people who can be identified based on just one or two sentences. In this respect, he compared him to writers such as Laurence Sterne, Charles Dickens, James Joyce, DH Lawrence and Vladimir Nabokov. He writes about his style: “His style has become his unmistakable signature. And there was wit and humor. He identified himself as a humorous author – no matter how serious his subject matter. He saw the world and its cruel absurdities through a comic lens. He was a very, very funny writer, but he was also fiercely intelligent, and that should never be forgotten.”
In addition to Boyd, others have also commemorated the death of Martin Amis, including writers Salman Rushdie, John Niven and Anne Enright, Michal Shavit, Amis’s editor in England, Andrew Wylie, his agent, and even Boris Johnson. In his article in The New Yorker, Salman Rushdie talks about it like this: “Martin Amis was the son of three fathers—a real parent, Kingsley Amis, and two literary forefathers, Vladimir Nabokov and Saul Bellow.” According to Rushdie, Kingsley learned “comedy” from Amis, “a kind of high intellectualism” from Nabokov, and “respect for style” from Bellow. “The blending of these elements has created a literary voice that is both unique and instantly recognizable. Only Martin sounded like Martin Amis, and it wasn’t wise to try to imitate him,” he concluded, then concluded: “He used to say that he wished he had left behind a shelf of books so that he could say, ‘From here so far it’s me”. His voice stopped now. His friends will miss him terribly. But the shelf is there.”
Salman Rushdie and Martin Amis – Photo by David M Bennett / Getty Images
Martin Amis’s last book is from 2020 Inside Story was nominated for the National Book Critics’ Circle Award for Fiction. In addition to his memories of Hitchens, Saul Bellow and Philip Larkin, the book – a two-decade “novelized autobiography” – also includes writing tips. The writer gave an interview to The Guardian about the book in 2021, which we reviewed in a news summary of that time.