If Martin Amis did return to Britain, would America miss him?

 

In a 2011 interview, Martin Amis launched a spectacular attack on the English way of life and declared that he was moving to America, where he planned to write a satirical novel that would savage “the moral decrepitude” of his homeland. It would be his “final insult” to England.

Three years on, his loathing seems to have lessened. This week in an interview to promote his new Holocaust novel The Zone of Interest, Amis indicated that he may return to Britain, praising the “great triumph” of its multiracial society. which he contrasted with a “racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War”.

The UK may have no plans to thrown Amis a homecoming parade, but would the US be sad to lose him?

Thirteen years ago his collection of essays and reviews was feted in the United States, winning the National Book Critics award for Criticism, and he was esteemed at least as highly as his friend and contemporary Christopher Hitchens.

But that satirical novel about England, “Lionel Asbo: State of England”, was mostly derided by American reviewers when it was published in 2012. The Wall Street Journal slammed it as disingenuous and the New York Observer labelled it “a bad book”. The New York Times not only gave the novel a scathingly negative review but also took the time to maul other recent efforts (“Yellow Dog” and “The Pregnant Widow”).

Martin Amis' new book 'The Zone of Interest' Martin Amis' new book 'The Zone of Interest'
Whereas Hitchens became influential by balancing his tone as simultaneous critic and fan of American culture, Amis has managed to alienate Americans by coming across as a condescending donnish pedant. And the truth is that his best fiction was written a long time ago when his satirical vision had real insight and bite.

While Hitchens’ writing was candid, highly personal and specific, Amis has repelled many with his tendency to make sweeping, generalised assertions that are historical as opposed to personal. His efforts at omniscient commentary come across as too clever at best.

Amis is described in the reference book “New Makers of Modern Culture” as a “novelist who always looked to the US rather than Europe” and of course the writer he most admires, Nabokov, remains the most famous (and successful) example of a European transplant who not only adapted to American society but went on to reshape it.

When Amis moved to New York he hosted indie film openings in SoHo, and teamed up with Salman Rushdie and Ian McEwan in 2013 to give celebrity readings to a sold-out crowd on the Upper East Side. But for all this immersion in New York society, Amis will get back on a transatlantic plane as just another passenger, with no Nabokovian legacy to show for the past three years.

Will Self memorably described Amis as “the finest prose writer of his generation” but also “the worst political writer” and argued the same impulse was responsible for both: namely Amis’ need to “project personal paranoias into abstract universals”.

The eminent American literary critic Michiko Kakutani went much further when she lambasted Amis as nothing more than a “littérateur” whose narcissism leads to “preening, self-consciously literary musings” on vast historical tragedies. Kakutain was referring specifically to an essay Amis wrote about 9/11 in his 2008 non-fiction collection “The Second Plane”.

Another novel about the Holocaust might sell well but this is a subject Amis already deftly covered nearly a quarter of a century ago in “Time’s Arrow”, and one can hardly see how his latest book will resuscitate his relevance to an American audience. It looks increasingly like there will be no Great American Novel by Martin Amis after all.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

COO / Chief Operating Officer

£80 - 100k + Bonus: Guru Careers: A COO / Chief Operating Officer is needed to...

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits