BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: UK
Front Page 
Northern Ireland 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Amis in 1998, on his father Kingsley
 real 28k

Amis on critics of his female characters
 real 28k

Friday, 12 May, 2000, 17:03 GMT 18:03 UK
The Martin Amis Experience

By Bob Chaundy of the BBC's News Profiles Unit

It is a rare breed of English author who combines a showbiz-style stardom with a high reputation for serious literature. Martin Amis is among that breed.

With his good looks, rakish past, beautiful wife, and business acumen, he is the rock star of English novelists.

With the help of his agent Andrew "The Jackal" Wylie, he has benefited from hugely lucrative deals with publishers and film companies.

Recent of Amis in living room
Martin Amis: a rare breed of writer
The serialisation alone of Experience, his book of memoirs, in the Guardian, is reported to have earned him around 100,000.

No wonder he could afford to spend 20,000 having his teeth fixed.

This financial success prompted some seemingly uncomplimentary remarks about him by his increasingly curmudgeonly father Kingsley Amis in recently-released letters to Philip Larkin, though friends have attributed these to Kingsley's ironic sense of humour.

But Kingsley showed little enthusiasm for his son's books. "He couldn't get on with them, too elaborate, too worked at".

Martin was Kingsley's second son, born in 1949 and brought up initially in Wales. In his new book his relationship with his father is portrayed as turbulent, but with an underlying tenderness.

He inherited his father's love of the good life believing "there was a lot of bachelorhood to be swum through".

Amis in his twenties
His first book was published at the age of 24.
Martin Amis, though feasting on a literary diet of mainly comics at boarding school in Brighton, eventually went up to Oxford and achieved the highest class degree in English.

His precocious talent found success early on. His first novel, The Rachel Papers, was published when he was only 24.

With subsequent novels such as Dead Babies, London Fields, Money, The Information and Time's Arrow, he has established a reputation of stylistic brilliance, mesmerising verbal agility and imagination, sly characterisation and grotesque satire.

"He is the master at being comfortable and confident and you know where he's coming from", says Suzi Feay, Literary Editor of the Independent on Sunday.

Martin with Kingsley
Father and son
Yet a common criticism is that, for all his literary skills, his work lacks emotional depth, and reeks of narcissism. Particular scorn is levelled at his female characters; one-dimensional and too male-fantasy.

His new book comes at the end of five years of emotional turbulence.

In 1995 he fell out with his long-time friend and tennis adversary, the author Julian Barnes whose wife, Pat Kavanagh, had been his long-time literary agent.

After leaving his wife and sons, he met a 20 year-old woman, Delilah Seale, who turned out to be his daughter by a former girlfriend Lamorna Heath who had committed suicide.

He discovered that a long-lost cousin, Lucy Partington, had been murdered by Fred West.

Martin with second wife, Isabel Fonseca
Martin with second wife, Isabel Fonseca
And he lost his father.

All this either accompanied or triggered a mid-life crisis which he has defined as an "hysterical over-reaction to the suddenly clear fact that you're going to die".

His marriage to another American, writer Isabel Fonseca, by whom he now has a baby daughter, suggests the crisis is over.

But it is hardly surprising that the man who once said that " fiction is the only way to redeem the formlessness of life", should have turned to autobiography.

Nevertheless the new departure does not impress Suzi Feay enough to make her want to read the new book. Though she regards Money as a masterpiece, so beautifully of its time, she has found other Amis books passionless.

Amis smoking cigarette
"I'm like the son of the lord of the manor"
"The events of Martin Amis's recent past, whilst very sad, are exactly the thing that would set the writerly imagination clicking rather than the heart and the emotions".

Amis believes there is a resentment at work amongst his critics, that he is regarded as "like the son of the lord of the manor who has inherited the estate by right of birth where others have had to struggle. In as much as heredity counts, there might be something in it".

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more UK stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK stories