Martin and the women

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.”


  1. chigau (違う) says

    I just realized that I’ve never read anything by Martin Amis.
    I have read a bunch of his father’s work.

  2. canonicalkoi says

    I haven’t either and, strangely, I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on much. He’s a little old to be playing the enfant terrible.

  3. Ed says

    I liked the female detective lead character in Night Train. That’s actually the only book of his I’ve read. I’ve been meaning to read London Fields.

  4. says

    I much prefer his father’s work, but at the same time…he can be brilliant in close-up. The Information has a lot of brilliant in close-up (along with the usual paper-doll women). On the other hand I thought The Pregnant Widow was horrendous, with very little saving brilliant in close-up. Possibly none.

  5. karmacat says

    When I read what Amis said about Monica Jones, I wanted to yell at him, “the world doesn’t fucking revolve around you. She is not there for you, so get over yourself.” I did check out her picture and she is far from hideous (not that it matters) so I wonder what really bothered Amis. She probably did not stroke his ego enough, the poor little boy.

  6. says

    It was probably a topic of conversation in the Amis household – Kingsley had a go at her looks too: she’s Margaret in Lucky Jim.

    Martin goes into some detail on the subject in Experience – how Larkin was pathetic and sexually stunted because why else would he have such an ugly girlfriend. He judges women pretty much as if they were food being cooked for his next meal.

  7. Tim Harris says

    I’ve never managed to develop much, or any, interest for MA’s work. or, really, for his father’s – although Lucky Jim is certainly funny. MA has spent his life playing an enfant terrible, when he isn’t one, or at least not in any interesting ways. Both father and son are misogynist bores. Larkin is a far superior writer (not that I’m very fond of some of his opinions, either – the adulation of Thatcher, some of his more ill-considered remarks on modernism).

  8. chigau (違う) says

    I started reading Kingsley because he wrote the first post-Ian Fleming James Bond book.

  9. 2kittehs says

    ::snort:: He sounds like an MRA, enraged that women who don’t please his boner have the audacity to exist. Except he’s a very good writer at times, I gather (never read his work, not interested).

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