240 pages 1 Ed
edition (June 2000)
Books; ISBN: 0786866527
"We live in the age of mass loquacity," Martin Amis
writes by way of introduction to Experience, thereby
placing the reader in a curious bind. How to feel about a
memoir by a writer who deplores our current enthusiasm for
memoirs? Can such a public appeal for private life be convincing?
The son of misanthropic comic novelist Kingsley Amis, Amis
the Younger's life story is "a literary curiosity," he tells
us, "which is also just another instance of a father and a
son." He's spent his whole life bathed in the dubious yellow
glow of celebrity, from the cries of nepotism surrounding
novel's publication to the bizarre tempest in a teapot
involving the size of the advance for The
Information, his choice of literary agent, and of
course that famously expensive set of new teeth.
Here, finally, is Amis's chance to set matters straight--and
if you're looking for his take on these controversies, you
won't be disappointed. In fact, you should turn right away
to the end of the book. After all, how many memoirs have indices--and
how many indices are this entertaining? In addition to movers
and shakers like "Travolta, John," "Brown, Tina," and "Bellow,
Saul," one finds an extended entry for "dental problems,"
which includes "of animals," "sexual potency and," "Bellow
on," and--more ominously--"tumour."
Yet it's as "a clear view of the geography of a writer's
mind," not as a celebrity tell-all, that Experience
succeeds. Organized not by chronology but by a strange thematic
schema all Amis's own, this messy, tangential book moves backward
and forward in time and comes studded with footnotes and interspersed
with schoolboy epistles. As a result, it's much truer to the
actual texture of experience than anything more "novelistic"
could possibly be. Amis's charming, quarrelsome, almost entirely
helpless father; the tragic disappearance of his cousin, Lucy
Partington; the daughter discovered only as an adult; those
teeth--the narrative circles around these events and
personages in prose as virtuoso but often less chilly than
that found in his novels. This is memoir as anatomy of obsessions,
and in the most profound way, it illuminates the source and
power of Amis's remarkable work. --Mary Park