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.)