23 September 2010

Amis a miss

Recently I saw Roman Polanski's excellent film of The Ghost - the excellent novel of Robert Harris.
The protagonist is a hack writer, and in the establishing scenes, he is asked to 'just have a look' at a manuscript he would rather not, especially as he flicks swiftly to the final page to register with horror that it is 'page 624'.

This came to mind as I slammed shut the 470 pages of The Pregnant Widow by Martin Amis.
Amis is, apparently, 'the finest English fiction-writer of his generation', but I suspect that quote really means 'of all the English writers born in 1948' - which must be no accolade at all. I have sought this novel merely because a character in it is a renamed Christopher Hitchens whose memoir Hitch 22 I have just read twice and simply wallowed in every phrase, every clause, every quote.

Any book-cover quotes must be read with caution. On the Amis cover, Jonathan Rabin of The Observer raves - 'first rate, inventive, shocking' (Jonno must not have read any Elmore Leonard, poor thing) and The New Statesman says of Amis "he is original". Pretty funny to read that after reading the author's Acknowledgements of quoting throughout his novel: Ted Hughes, Eric Hobsbawm, Franz Kafka, Philip Larkin, Saul Bellow, William Blake, William Shakespeare, (I may have left one or two quotees out of my list, due to my bored state) but Jane Austen is quoted so extensively that she deserves a cover credit.

Amis refers obliquely to 'Cielo Drive' and at least credits his reader with that level of cultural frame of reference, which reference brings me back to the film of 'The Ghost', titled The Ghost Writer in case the audience is too dumb to think.
Do pay attention, when you see it, as you must, to the nerdy lumpenfrau receptionist in the Norman Batesian motel, as she is played by Morgane Polanski.
The other joke in the very bleak film is the line by Our Writer to the marvellous Pierce Brosnan playing an energetic ex-PM : " oh I know a writer on The Guardian who works out".

Christopher Hitchens writes frequently in Hitch 22 of his love for Amis, so MA must be OK on a personal level, but I wouldn't give any of his novels as a gift.
A bit silly of this Nobody from Nowhere criticising an apparently Great Novelist, but I am encouraged by my UK blogpal Prof. Norm Geras, who is brave enough to similarly ask 'why oh why do people want to read Anita Brookner stories?'.

I love Norm, and I met Pants at his place. She gave me the Hitchens book so I love her too.

(For those of you who read 'Cielo Drive' and could not immediately understand, it is the address where Mr. Polanski's bride, and his unborn son Paul Polanski, were viciously stabbed to death by lunatics allowed to roam free.)


  1. I'm big on the notion that readers are a subjective bunch and that one person's favourite writer might well be another writer's poison.

    That said, I doubt I'd get through any of Amis's books and I have enjoyed the recent essay I read by Hitchens on his horrible experience of cancer. But I have also enjoyed Anita Brookner's writing and I take issue with Norm Geras's - thanks for the link - implication that the show don't tell rule of writing must be adhered to slavishly.

    There are many writers who 'tell' in preference to showing and there are also many times in most novels and books where a bit of 'telling is necessary. It's not a crime, to tell, it's a preference.

    Gerald Murnane reckons we've been seduced by the demands of film and TV into believing that everything has to be turned into a scene, but good writing doesn't necessarily get bogged down with these issues.

    Good writing just is. At the same time what's good to one is not as good to another and so it goes.

    Thanks for some thought provoking reading.

  2. I've read one or two Robert Harris - and they are excellent reading - really loved being in melbourne recently for the wedding - its my favourite place

  3. This doesn't sound like my kind of book at all. I prefer stuff that grabs me by the throat within the first few pages and doesn't let me put it down even for eating.

  4. but River precisely! that is exactly what Robert Harris and Christopher Hitchens' books did for me, and what Amis didn't do at all.
    "Couldn't put it down" is wonderful when it can be said.
    Today in an opshop, I got a brand new unread UK printing of a Christopher Brookmyre that was SIGNED BY THE AUTHOR and only 50c

    I laughed all the way home.

  5. My eyes read the name "Elmore Leonard" but my brain thought of the name "Delmore Schwartz". 'Hitch 22' is a great title. Seems the book does just as well. Nothing about Amis' career has ever interested me, although he did have a reputable poet father - isn't 'Kingsley' a smashing first name? I shall change my name to Mitzley.

  6. Apparently Kingzley stopped hiding his prejudices at the End, and could not be taken out.
    You could try Queenzley, or Mitzjesty is a pretty good name.
    I love Elmore Leonard and Elmore James too, come t think of it. Delmore was an idol of Lou Reed, although these days, it would be "who's that guy with Lou?"
    I experienced once, The Delmore Effect, when my place was flooded ankle-deep, I went upstairs and scrubbed the entire bathroom with Ajax,
    If you see a copy of Hitch 22 you won't be wasting the purchase price. It is quite an education in politics, history and Literature.

  7. "Any book-cover quotes must be read with caution."

    Especially Harry Potter books...

  8. good to see you Hughesy. I've got Bryan Ferry at my blog and you are welcome to post some pith at him there.

  9. No, I Cant Warm to MA. Plus ,in Interviews, He seems to be turning into his Father.This Is Not A Good Thing1