Writing for the universe
A w e e k I N B O O K S
Prolific writer and commentator John Walsh contributes columns to the paper as well as writing features, interviews and restaurant reviews. He has been editor of The Independent Magazine, literary editor of the Sunday Times and features editor of the London Evening Standard.
Saturday 25 March 1995
All this attention means that it is now perfectly likely that The Information will earn out its notorious £500,000 advance. You could almost imagine a PR genius had orchestrated the whole thing. And it throws into relief a central theme of the book and of Amis's mid-life crisis management: the question of universality. Both Amis and his fictional hero puzzle over a nasty dialectic: the real writer writes what he thinks is universal; readers, however, prefer to read stuff that is marginal, contingent, local; therefore either what you write isn't universal at all, or the universe which you seek to encapsulate is a pretty crap operation anyway. According to this pessimistic analysis, there is no longer any distinction between good books and bad books.
All nonsense, of course, based on a skewed understanding of the word "universal". But how piquant to think that Mr Amis is now the most discussed writer in the nation - and his novel set to become the spring's bestseller - for reasons (his teeth, cash, sex-life and capacity for envy) that are unliterary but all too "universal".
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