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Martin Louis Amis (born 25 August 1949) is an Englishmarker novelist, literary critic, professor, and short story writer. He is the son of Sir Kingsley Amis. His works include such novels as Money (1984), London Fields (1989) and The Information (1995). Amis's raw material is what he sees as the absurdity and caricatures of the postmodern condition — he has thus sometimes been portrayed as the undisputed master of what the New York Times has called "the new unpleasantness."

The Guardian writes that "all his critics have noted what Kingsley Amis complained of as a 'terrible compulsive vividness in his [Martin's] style ... that constant demonstrating of his command of English'; and it's true that the Amis-ness of Amis will be recognisable in any piece before he reaches his first full stop." In the words of one prominent academic, he is the "leading luminary of the English metropolitan literary world".

Early life

Amis was born in Oxfordmarker, England. His father, Sir Kingsley Amis, was the son of a mustard manufacturer's clerk from Claphammarker; his mother, Hilary Bardwell (Hilly), was the daughter of a shoe millionaire. He had an older brother, Philip, and a younger sister, Sally. Martin Amis's parents divorced when he was twelve. Much later, Martin lived in a house with Kingsley, Hilly, and Hilly's third husband, Alistair Boyd, Lord Kilmarnock. Amis has described it as "[s]omething out of early Updike, 'Couples' flirtations and a fair amount of drinking," he told The New York Times. "They were all 'at it'."

He attended a number of different schools in the 1950s and 1960s, including Swansea Grammar Schoolmarker, and Cambridgeshire High School for Boysmarker. The acclaim that followed Kingsley's first novel Lucky Jim sent the family to Princeton, New Jerseymarker, where Kingsley lectured. This was Martin's introduction to the United Statesmarker.

Martin Amis read nothing but comic books until his stepmother, the novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard, introduced him to Jane Austen, whom he often names as his earliest influence. After teenage years spent in flowery shirts and a short spell at Westminster Schoolmarker while living in Hampsteadmarker, he graduated from Exeter College, Oxfordmarker with a "Congratulatory" First in English — "the sort where you are called in for a viva and the examiners tell you how much they enjoyed reading your papers."

After Oxford, he found an entry-level job at The Times Literary Supplement, and at age 27 became literary editor of The New Statesman, where he met Christopher Hitchens, then a feature writer for The Observer, who remains a close friend.

Early writing

According to Martin, Kingsley Amis famously showed no interest in his son's work. "I can point out the exact place where he stopped and sent Money twirling through the air; that's where the character named Martin Amis comes in." "Breaking the rules, buggering about with the reader, drawing attention to himself," Kingsley complained.

His first novel The Rachel Papers (1973) won the Somerset Maugham Award. The most traditional of his novels, made into an unsuccessful cult film, it tells the story of a bright, egotistical teenager (which Amis acknowledges as autobiographical) and his relationship with the eponymous girlfriend in the year before going to university.

He also wrote the screenplay for the film Saturn 3, an experience which he was to draw on for his fifth novel Money.

Dead Babies (1975), more flippant in tone, has a typically "sixties" plot, with a house full of characters who use various substances. A number of Amis's characteristics show up here for the first time: mordant black humour, obsession with the zeitgeist, authorial intervention, a character subjected to sadistically humorous misfortunes and humiliations, and a defiant casualness ("my attitude has been, I don't know much about science, but I know what I like"). A film adaptation was made in 2000.

Success (1977) told the story of two foster-brothers, Gregory Riding and Terry Service, and their rising and falling fortunes. This was the first example of Amis's fondness for symbolically 'pairing' characters in his novels, which has been a recurrent feature in his fiction since (Martin Amis and Martina Twain in Money, Richard Tull and Gwyn Barry in The Information, and Jennifer Rockwell and Mike Hoolihan in Night Train).

Other People: A Mystery Story (1981), about a young woman coming out of a coma, was a transitional novel in that it was the first of Amis's to show authorial intervention in the narrative voice, and highly artificed language in the heroine's descriptions of everyday objects, which was said to be influenced by his contemporary Craig Raine's 'Martian' school of poetry.

Later career

Amis's best-known novels, and the ones most respected by critics, are Money, London Fields, Time's Arrow, and The Information.

Money (1984, subtitled A Suicide Note) is a first-person narrative by John Self, advertising man and would-be film director, who is "addicted to the twentieth century." "[A] satire of Thatcherite amorality and greed," the novel relates a series of black comedic episodes as Self flies back and forth across the Atlantic, in crass and seemingly chaotic pursuit of personal and professional success. Time included the novel in its list of the 100 best English-language novels of 1923 to 2005.On November 11, 2009, The Guardian reported that the BBC has adapted Money for television as part of their early 2010 schedule for BBC 2. Early word on the casting includes Nick Frost to play John Self, and will also feature Vincent Kartheiser, who plays Pete Campbell in Mad Men, Little Dorrit's Emma Pierson and Jerry Hall, who will be playing Selina Street. The adaptation is to be a "two part drama" and is written by Tom Butterworth and Chris Hurford.

London Fields (1989), Amis's longest work, describes the encounters between three main characters in London in 1999, as a climate disaster approaches. The characters have typically Amisian names and broad caricatured qualities: Keith Talent, the lower-class crook with a passion for darts; Nicola Six, a femme fatale who is determined to be murdered; and upper-middle-class Guy Clinch, 'the fool, the foil, the poor foal' who is destined to come between the other two. The book was reportedly omitted from the Booker Prize shortlist in its year of publication, 1989, because of panel members protesting against its alleged misogyny.

Time's Arrow (1991), the autobiography of a doctor who helped torture Jews during the Holocaust, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, drew notice both for its unusual technique — time runs backwards during the entire novel, down to the dialogue initially being spoken backwards — as well as for its topic.

The size of the advance (an alleged £500,000) demanded and obtained by Amis for The Information (1995) attracted what Amis described as "an Eisteddfod of hostility" from writers and critics after he left his agent of many years, the late Pat Kavanagh, in order to be represented by the Harvardmarker-educated Andrew "The Jackal" Wylie. Kavanagh was married to Julian Barnes, with whom Amis had been friends for many years, but the incident caused a rift that, according to Amis in his autobiography Experience (2000), had (at the time of writing), not yet healed.

Night Train (1997) is a short novel in the stylised form of a US police procedural, narrated by the female, but mannish, Detective Mike Hoolihan, who has been called upon to investigate the suicide of her boss's daughter. Amis's American vernacular in the narrative was criticised by, among others, John Updike, although the novel found defenders elsewhere, notably in Janis Bellow, wife of Amis's sometime mentor Saul Bellow.

The memoir Experience is largely about his relationship with his father, Kingsley Amis, though he also writes of being reunited with long-lost daughter, Delilah Seale, the product of an affair in the 1970s, whom he did not see until she was 19, and the story of how one of his cousins, Lucy Partington, became a victim of Fred West when she was 21. The book was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for biography.

In 2002, Amis published Koba the Dread, a book about the crimes of Stalinism. The book provoked a literary controversy for its approach to the material, and for its attack on his longtime friend Christopher Hitchens, who rebuked his charges in a stinging review in The Atlantic. Asked recently if they were still friends, Amis responded "We never needed to make up. We had an adult exchange of views, mostly in print, and that was that (or, more exactly, that goes on being that). My friendship with the Hitch has always been perfectly cloudless. It is a love whose month is ever May."

In 2003, Yellow Dog, Amis's first novel in six years, was denounced by Tibor Fischer, whose comments were widely reported in the media: "Yellow Dog isn't bad as in not very good or slightly disappointing. It's not-knowing-where-to-look bad. I was reading my copy on the Tube and I was terrified someone would look over my shoulder . . . It's like your favourite uncle being caught in a school playground, masturbating". Elsewhere, the book received mixed reviews, with some critics proclaiming the novel a return to form, but most considered the book to be a great disappointment. Amis was unrepentant about the novel and its reaction, calling Yellow Dog "among my best three". He gave his own explanation for the novel's critical failure, "No one wants to read a difficult literary novel or deal with a prose style which reminds them how thick they are. There's a push towards egalitarianism, making writing more chummy and interactive, instead of a higher voice, and that's what I go to literature for." Yellow Dog "controversially made the 23-book longlist for the 2003 Booker Prize, despite some scathing reviews", but failed to win the award.

In September 2006, Amis published House of Meetings, a short novel about two half-brothers who loved the same woman and who were incarcerated together in a Soviet gulag. According to a piece in the Independent newspaper, "It was originally to have been collected alongside two short stories - one, a disturbing account of the life of a body-double in the court of Saddam Hussein; the other, the imagined final moments of Muhammad Atta, the leader of the 11 September attacks - but late in the process, Amis decided to jettison both from the book." In the same 2006 interview, Amis revealed that he had "recently abandoned a novella, The Unknown Known (the title was based on one of Donald Rumsfeld's characteristically strangulated linguistic formulations) in which Muslim terrorists unleash a horde of compulsive rapists on a town called Greeley, Colorado" and instead continued to work on a follow up full novel that he had started working on in 2003:

"The novel I'm working on is blindingly autobiographical, but with an Islamic theme. It's called A Pregnant Widow, because at the end of a revolution you don't have a newborn child, you have a pregnant widow. And the pregnant widow in this novel is feminism. Which is still in its second trimester. The child is nowhere in sight yet. And I think it has several more convulsions to undergo before we'll see the child."

In 2010, after a protracted writing and editing process, Amis will publish his long awaited new long novel The Pregnant Widow which marks the beginning of a new four-book deal. Originally set for release in 2008, the novel's publication was pushed back to 2009 and then 2010 as further editing and alterations were being made expanding the novel to some 320 pages. The pre-release statement from publishers Johnathan Cape made available on Amazon concerning the content of the novel states:
"The 1960s, as is well known, saw the launch of the sexual revolution, which radically affected the lives of every Westerner fortunate enough to be born after the Second World War. But a revolution is a revolution - contingent and sanguinary. In the words of the Russian thinker Alexander Herzen: The death of the contemporary forms of social order ought to gladden rather than trouble the soul. Yet what is frightening is that what the departing world leaves behind it is not an heir but a pregnant widow. Between the death of the one and the birth of the other, much water will flow by, a long night of chaos and desolation will pass. In many senses, including the literal, it was a velvet revolution; but it wasn't bloodless. Nor was it complete. Even today, in 2009, the pregnancy is still in its second trimester. Martin Amis, in "The Pregnant Widow", takes as his control experiment a long, hot summer holiday in a castle in Italy, where half a dozen young lives are afloat on the sea change of 1970. The result is a tragicomedy of manners, combining the wit of Money with the historical sense of "Time's Arrow" and "House of Meetings"."

There has been a great deal of interest in the novel among the literati, partially due to its lengthy period of composition (six years-from 2004 until May of 2009-including a break in which House of Meetings was written); and partially due to some of its reported content regarding semi-autobiographical revelations about Amis's past girlfriends, affairs and his father. As early as 2007, there was speculation that the novel could well earn Amis the Booker Prize title that he had come close to winning in 1991 and 2003 for Time's Arrow and Yellow Dog, respectively. However, the novel was unpublished at the time of the judges drawing up the long list and the novel missed the deadline for consideration for the 2009 Booker.

The first public reading of the then just completed version of The Pregnant Widow occurred on May 11, 2009 at the Norwich Playhouse as part of the Norwich and Norfolk festival.. Amis was in conversation with the Observer’s Robert McCrum, a long time friend of Amis.

At this reading, according to the coverage of the event for the Norwich Writers' Centre by Katy Carr, "the writing shows a return to comic form, as the narrator muses on the indignities of facing the mirror as an aging man, in a prelude to a story set in Italy in 1970, looking at the effect of the sexual revolution on personal relationships. The sexual revolution was the moment, as Amis sees it, that love became divorced from sex. He said he started to write the novel autobiographically, (something that has been interesting the press recently), but then concluded that real life was too different from fiction, and difficult to drum into novel shape, so he had to rethink the form.". Additionally, Amis "seemed quite happy reading the opening pages in the novel’s first public outing."

Further details concerning the novel's plot were revealed by The Timeson May 10, 2009, its reporter Maurice Chittenden writing that at the event "Amis said the book was originally meant to be based much more closely on his own life. However, he had introduced more fictional passages after realising the format was not working." and that he "[had] been working on the partly autobiographical The Pregnant Widow for more than five years."

Chittenden writes that Amis said at the event regarding the length of the novel's protratced writing and creative gestation:

"In 2003 I tried for a couple of years [to make the novel more autobiographical]. I flailed about and it all felt awful. Bits were autobiographical but I had to completely rethink it. It was an uncontrollably long and pointless novel of 200,000 words. But the summer in Italy, I drew that out.”

In an August 1, 2009 interview with The Afterworld, Amis clarified the nature of some of the content of The Pregnant Widow and revealed that he is currently "writing two novels at the same time":

I started a novel [but] then I’m going to write a novella before I get on to it. But I was in big trouble a few years ago, with a huge, dead novel. And it took me a long time, and a lot of grief, to realize -- I thought I was clutching at straws - it turned out it was actually two novels, and they couldn’t go together. So I wrote The Pregnant Widow, [that’s] one half of it, and the other half I started, and it will be very autobiographical, the next one.

On October 27, 2009, The Daily Telegraph reported that during a recent appearance by Amis the at Hay Festival in London, that Amis had discussed his fascination with the glamour model turned celebrity author Katie Price (formerly known as Jordan). Amis went on to reveal that he "has honoured [Price] with a character bearing some of her traits" in his forthcoming new novella provisionally titled State of England (also the title of a 1986 short story by Amis). Amis said that her character was named 'Threnody', and stated catagorically that Threnody "isn't based on" Jordan" but readers should "bear in mind" the model when they read the book. Furthermore, Amis said of Price: "She has no waist, no arse ... an interesting face ... but all we are really worshipping is two bags of silicone." but admitted to having read both volumes of her autobiography.

Whether this new novella will definitely see the light of day after the publication of The Pregnant Widow and whether it will concern either the much touted Islamic themes or autobiographical elements that have been speculated upon as being features of his future fiction is unknown.

Amis' remarks concerning Price and the rise of the "celebrity author" provoked wide discussion and much fierce debate with the press and literary circles, with Guardian BookBlog writer Jean Hannah Edelstein accusing Amis of misogyny and implying that it showed insecurity on his part. David Lister in The Independent thought that Amis was "refreshingly unafraid to challenge prevailing orthodoxies" but though he had also been "a real fool". "In turning his critique of celebrity publishing into a personal attack on a woman's physical attributes in language that would have seemed chauvinist 40 years ago, let alone now, he has shown his true colours, won Jordan sympathy and lost the argument on celebrity novels." Lister wrote. These are accusations which have been levelled at Amis before, most notably in 1989 when London Fields was rumoured to have been excluded from the Booker Prize longlist for similar reasons after protests by judges Maggie Gee and Helen McNeil and exlusions from the shortlist for the Whitbread Prize the same year. Outspoken Independent Editor-At-Large Janet Street Porter also attacked Amis' remarks, "The truth is, he doesn't sell as many books as he used to...Whether Amis can cope with it or not, Katie Price sells millions of books to people who would not normally buy books.". Street Porter went on to add that Price's novels were "pure escapism" (asking "...what's wrong with that?") and that in being "reduced to slagging off a woman who will never have read one of his own books, or even have heard of him, in order to drum up interest and grab a few headlines for his next opus", Amis was "signing up to the very culture he's said to despise." Porter signed off her piece saying that Amis shouldn't be "...such a rude snob."

Amis was defended by fellow novelist Tony Parsons. Writing in The Mirror, Parsons opined that " is wrong to suggest that Amis is just jealous of Jordan’s sales figures. I think the real problem is the sheer excitement that Katie/Jordan generates among her readers. She encourages people to pour into bookshops in a way that the likes of Martin and I can only dream about." Despite the critical acclaim of literary fiction and high profile awards such as the Booker Prize, Parsons said that ultimately "Jordan, those two bestselling bags of silicone, has done more to promote reading in this country than anyone apart from the great JK Rowling,".

Amis revealed a few more details about Threnody and his views on Jordan in an interview with Will Gore for the Epsom Guardian prior to the release of The Pregnant Widow:

“She is a minor character,” he explains. “It is not Jordan but a rather different type of woman who gets about as much attention. My character is a poet, not a novelist, on the side as well as being a glamour model.

“I think it is slightly depressing that Jordan’s autobiography is a best seller and people queue for five hours to meet her. What does that say about England?

“Snobbery has to start somewhere and if you can’t be snobbish about Katie Price you are dead, you’ve gone.”

Amis has also released two collections of short stories (Einstein's Monsters and Heavy Water), four volumes of collected journalism and criticism (The Moronic Inferno, Visiting Mrs. Nabokov, The War Against Cliché and The Second Plane), and a guide to 1980s space-themed arcade video-game machines (Invasion of the Space Invaders). He also regularly appeared on television and radio discussion and debate programmes, and contributes book reviews and articles to newspapers. His wife Isabel Fonseca released her debut novel Attachment in 2009 and two of Amis' children, his son Louis and his daughter Fernanda, have also been published in their own right in Standpoint magazine and The Guardian, respectively.

Current life

Amis returned to Britain in September 2006 after living in Uruguaymarker for two and a half years with his second wife, the writer Isabel Fonseca, and their two young daughters. Amis became a grandfather in 2008 when his daughter Delilah gave birth to a son.

He said, "Some strange things have happened, it seems to me, in my absence. I didn't feel like I was getting more rightwing when I was in Uruguay, but when I got back I felt that I had moved quite a distance to the right while staying in the same place." He reports that he is disquieted by what he sees as increasingly undisguised hostility towards Israel and the United States.

Political opinions

Through the 1980s and 1990s, Amis was a strong critic of nuclear proliferation. His collection of five stories on this theme, Einstein's Monsters, began with a long essay entitled 'Thinkability' in which he set out his views on the issue, writing: "Nuclear weapons repel all thought, perhaps because they can end all thought."

He wrote in "Nuclear City" in Esquire of 1987 (re-published in Visiting Mrs Nabokov) that: "when nuclear weapons become real to you, when they stop buzzing around your ears and actually move into your head, hardly an hour passes without some throb or flash, some heavy pulse of imagined supercatastrophe."

Amis expressed his opinions on terrorism in an extended essay published in The Observer on the eve of the fifth anniversary of 9/11 in which he criticized the economic development of all Arab countries because their "aggregate GDP... was less than the GDP of Spain", and they "lag[ged] behind the West, and the Far East, in every index of industrial and manufacturing output, job creation, technology, literacy, life-expectancy, human development, and intellectual vitality."

The Catholic-Marxist critic Terry Eagleton, in the 2007 introduction to his work Ideology, singled out and attacked Amis for a particular quote (which Eagleton mistakenly attributed to one of Amis' essays), taken the day after the 2006 transatlantic aircraft plot came to light, in an informal interview in The Times Magazine. Amis was quoted as saying: "What can we do to raise the price of them doing this? There’s a definite urge – don’t you have it? – to say, ‘The Muslim community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order.’ What sort of suff­­er­­­ing? Not letting them travel. Deportation – further down the road. Curtailing of freedoms. Strip-searching people who look like they’re from the Middle East or from Pakistan… Discriminatory stuff, until it hurts the whole community and they start getting tough with their children...It’s a huge dereliction on their part". Eagleton wrote that this view is "[n]ot the ramblings of a British National Party thug, [...] but the reflections of Martin Amis, leading luminary of the English metropolitan literary world".

In a later piece, Eagleton added: "But there is something rather stomach-churning at the sight of those such as Amis and his political allies, champions of a civilisation that for centuries has wreaked untold carnage throughout the world, shrieking for illegal measures when they find themselves for the first time on the sticky end of the same treatment."

Elsewhere, Amis was especially careful to distinguish between Islam and radical Islamism, stating that:

A prominent British Muslim, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown wrote an op-ed piece on the subject condemning Amis and he responded with an open letter to The Independent which the newspaper printed in full. In it, he stated his views had been misrepresented by both Alibhai-Brown and Eagleton.In an article in The Guardian, Amis subsequently wrote:

On terrorism, Martin Amis wrote that he suspected "there exists on our planet a kind of human being who will become a Muslim in order to pursue suicide-mass murder," and added: "I will never forget the look on the gatekeeper's face, at the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, when I suggested, perhaps rather airily, that he skip some calendric prohibition and let me in anyway. His expression, previously cordial and cold, became a mask; and the mask was saying that killing me, my wife, and my children was something for which he now had warrant."

In comments on the BBC in October 2006 Amis expressed his view that North Koreamarker was the most dangerous of the two remaining members of the Axis Of Evil, but that Iranmarker was our "natural enemy", suggesting that we should not feel bad about having "helped Iraq scrape a draw with Iran" in the Iran–Iraq War, because a "revolutionary and rampant Iran would have been a much more destabilising presence."

His views on radical Islamism earned him the contentious sobriquet Blitcon from the New Statesman (his former employer). This term, it has since been argued, was wrongly applied.

His political opinions have been attacked in some quarters, particularly in The Guardian. He has, however, received support from many other writers. In The Spectator, Philip Hensher noted:

In June 2008, Amis endorsed the presidential candidacy of Barack Obama, stating that "The reason I hope for Obama is that he alone has the chance to reposition America's image in the world".

Current employment

In February 2007, Martin Amis was appointed as a Professor of Creative Writing at The Manchester Centre for New Writing in the University of Manchestermarker, and started in September 2007. He runs postgraduate seminars, and participates in four public events each year, including a two week summer school.

Of his position, he said: "I may be acerbic in how I write but... I would find it very difficult to say cruel things to [students] in such a vulnerable position. I imagine I'll be surprisingly sweet and gentle with them." He predicts that the experience might inspire him to write a new book, while adding sardonically: "A campus novel written by an elderly novelist, that's what the world wants.". It has been revealed that the salary paid to Amis by the university is £80,000 a year. The Manchester Evening News broke the story claiming that according to his contract this meant he was paid £3000 an hour for 28 hours a year teaching. The claim was echoed in headlines in several national papers. However like any other member of academic staff his teaching contact hours constitute a minority of his commitments, a point confirmed in the original article by a reply from the University.

Martin Amis is scheduled to give a number of appearances at Manchester University's Whitworth Hall, public discussions with other experts on various topics during 2008-2009.




Non fiction


  1. Stout, Mira. "Martin Amis: Down London's mean streets", The New York Times, 4 February 1990.
  2. "Martin Amis", The Guardian, undated.
  3. Eagleton, Ideology, (London 2007).
  4. Sarah Sands: "My life with the unfaithful old devil Kingsley Amis", in Daily Mail, 6 October 2006 (retrieved 2008-05-18); Eric Jacobs: "From angry young man to old devil", Obituary of Sir Kingsley Amis in The Guardian, 23 October 1995 (retrieved 2008-05-18).
  5. Leader, Zachary (2006). The Life of Kingsley Amis. Cape, p. 614.
  6. "Martin Amis", British Council: Contemporary Writers, accessed 24 January 2009
  13. Amis, Martin, Experience (2000), pp. 247-249
  14. "Martin Amis: You Ask The Questions", "The Independent", 15 January 2007.
  15. "Amis needs a drink", The Times, 13 September 2003.
  50. Amis, Martin. "The Age of Horrorism", The Observer, 23 February 2007.
  51. Martin Amis interviewed by Ginny Dougary, originally published in The Times Magazine, 9 September 2006
  52. Eagleton, Rebuking obnoxious views is not just a personality kink, The Guardian, Wednesday 10 October 2007
  53. [1] Martin Amis on Barack Obama
  54. Yakub Qureshi, £3,000 an hour for Amis, Manchester Evening News, 25/1/2008; Amis the £3k an hour professor, Guardian, 26/01/2008.
  55. Yakub Qureshi, op. cit., Manchester Evening News, 25/1/2008.

External links

Comprehensive information and hubs

Sample works and articles by Amis

  • Authors in the front line: Martin Amis, The Sunday Times Magazine, 6 February 2005 – On the streets of Colombia, young boys cripple or murder each other just for showing disrespect or for winning at a game of cards. Is the taste for violence opening up a wound that can never heal? Report: Martin Amis – In The Sunday Times Magazine's continuing series of articles, renowned writers bring a fresh perspective to the world's trouble spots. The international medical-aid organisation MSF has helped our correspondents reach some of these inhospitable areas.
  • CareerMove - A complete short story by Amis.
  • The Unknown Known - A satire on fundamentalism in this extract from an unpublished manuscript by Amis



Note: for reviews of individual works, please see its article.

Amis and "Islamism"




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