Martin Amis, the novelist turned socio-political ponderer, is well accustomed to the occasional beating in his native Britain, particularly regarding his regular denunciations of Islam in the years since the 9/11 terror attacks. But the anti-Amis brigade is suddenly attracting new recruits across the Atlantic.
This much even he has surely gleaned from the tirades of American critics about his new-est offering, The Second Plane: September 11: Terror and Boredom, a collection of articles, musings (and a little fiction) he has penned in the years since the crushing of the Twin Towers. Most notable was a withering assessment by Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times.
Kakutani, whose widely-read and mostly respected reviews appear weekly, is well known for her unflinching capacity to kneecap authors when they displease her. But her assault this week would leave less resilient scribes than Amis seeking out the highest parapet. She says he "prattles on" and dismisses some of his arguments as "pretentious and formalistic".
Her assessment of his newest tome, published by Knopf, is brief and gives no credit to Amis for being consistent in his assaults on radical Islamism or his willingness to forgo political correctness. Within the first breath of her review, she brands the essays "chuckleheaded". (If we are unsure what this means, Amis, with his mastery of prose, probably has some idea.) .........
It is a review that seems intent on skewering the author as much as his book, anchored partly by a mega-essay first written for The Observer entitled Terror and Boredom: The Dependent Mind. She implies he has borrowed from other writers, including Christopher Hitchens and the Middle East expert Bernard Lewis, saying his own reasoning "tends to be specious or skewed".
Kakutani is hardly the first to be offended by Amis's "eruptions of anti-Islamic vituperation" and meanders beyond the book's pages to bring up the dog-eared remarks he made in an interview in 2006 about a "definite urge" to see all Muslims "suffer until it gets its house in order". (His suggestions: "Not letting them travel. Deportation – further down the road. Curtailing freedoms. Strip-searching ...")
As for the implication that Amis is "deeply indebted to other writers," she pushes her nib deeper, saying he "adds nothing illuminating to their thinking, while blindly accepting some of their more debatable assertions". She contends he has let himself down by setting up "ridic- ulous paper tigers to knock down easily" while making "sweeping statements without supplying any facts to back them up".
Hitchens called Kakutani on her review last night, noting that it was long before his own book attacking religion, God Is Not Great, How Religion Poisons Everything, and before the post-9/11 assaults on Islamism, that Amis began to explore his own atheism. "Michiko Kakutani's review misunderstands more than this, and doesn't even get the obvious point about the lethality of tedium," he said, positing that writers more likely to have influenced him might be Ian McEwan or Salman Rushdie.
Kakutani leaves her worst thrusts for her closing paragraph. "The Second Plane is such a weak, risible and objectionable volume that the reader finishes it convinced that Amis should stick to fiction and literary criticism, as he's thoroughly discredited himself ... as any sort of political or social commentator."
Regrettably for Amis, Kakutani is in good company. "Anyone Here Seen My Old Friend Martin Amis?' is the headline on an assessment of the new book by liberal commentator Eric Alterman on the website mediamatters.org. "When did Martin Amis – whose early journalism is among the best I've ever read – become such a jerk?"
At least Amis expresses opinions with the art we would expect of him, argues Laura Miller of Salon. Otherwise she was not impressed, calling the book a, "fair example of the myopic Western attitudes that helped create the problem it describes". She writes: "There's lots of fulmination, though, fulmination of the very highest order."