A long Guardian think-piece on Martin Amis and why he gets so much attention and why so much of it is hostile yadda yadda – kind of a dopy navel-gazing three levels of meta piece, frankly, but I skimmed down to see if it ever gets to the thing that most annoys me about Martin Amis, and it does. I wonder if you can guess what that might be…
Also there’s the old question mark over his women. When I interviewed Amis about House of Meetings I asked him about the charge levelled by some reviewers that the female protagonist Zoya was a “male fantasy figure” (the same thing could be said of Nicola in London Fields and Scheherazade in The Pregnant Widow). “All that means is that she’s pretty,” he responded. “Are they suggesting that there are no pretty women? Or that novelists can’t pull? Or perhaps it means that book reviewers can’t pull?” There, again, the combat stance.
No, it’s more that Martin Amis isn’t interested unless they are pretty.Martin Amis is quite remarkably frank about his hostility to women he considers not-pretty. I developed a certain settled loathing of him because of the way he kept attacking Philip Larkin (in his memoir and in articles and interviews) for having had a long-term gf Amis called “an eyesore.”*
Amis of course knows that the question is not about whether women in fiction are allowed to be attractive – that it has to do with their agency, their interiority, the sense that they are acted upon rather than acting in his fiction. But a sort-of-surly, sort-of-amused two fingers is the preferred response. Fuck you, the eisteddfod. The counterargument that he couldn’t perhaps be bothered to make is that Amis is writing, and doing so effectively, about a particular sort of masculinity. Women mostly register through their effects on men.
Does it get him off the hook to say that his subject is not female interiority: that that’s not his game? Up to a point. Even if that’s conceded (and he might not concede it), it limits his reach as a novelist. There’s no real getting around the fact that Amis writes, primarily, about men: and that his approach to masculinity is one in which women are a different tribe – sometimes feared, often longed-for, sometimes despised, frequently admired, but always other.
It limits his reach as a novelist because he presents a world that is grotesquely unreal (and not in a good way). His women are like paper dolls, and the world isn’t like that.
* Well, his next book is going to be autobiographical. It will, like one of Bellow”s novels, feature real people: himself, his father and his father”s best friend, Philip Larkin. “Yes, he’s in my novel, and Monica Jones [Larkin’s girlfriend]. A terrible woman. An eyesore, a bore, a hag. I spent one evening with them in 1984. God, I thought she was hideous.”