Terence Blacker: Who are you trying to kid, Martin?

Most writers understand the need to lead a double life - both public and private

Share

One of the many funny and perceptive things Martin Amis has said in the past is that every time he delivered a new novel to his publisher, he expected to hear the siren of an ambulance and to see white men in coats arriving to take him away. It was a good joke because of all novelists writing at the time, he seemed the sanest and most clear-eyed. Now, I fear, the men in white coats might be needed. Leaving the UK yet again, he has written an article – "An unfond farewell to the British Lit scene" – for the American magazine New Republic. It is borderline bonkers.

When his first novel, The Rachel Papers, was published 40 years ago, Amis writes, "There were no interviews, no profiles, no photo shoots, no signings, no readings, no panels." This is simply not true. A first novel by the cool, high-profile son of Kingsley Amis was always going to be noticed; when it turned out to be brilliantly original and funny, it became a major literary event. If that has slipped Amis's mind, he should turn to YouTube, where his 1972 interview with Melvyn Bragg for the prime-time TV book show Read All About It can be seen.

Since that time, Amis continues, novelists have become famous – the focus of, to quote his unrecognisably constipated new prose style, "the Albionic Fourth Estate" with its "emulousness, a kind of cruising belligerence, and instinctive proprietoriality". If they complain, "they are accused of self-pity ('celebrity whinge')".

It is here that one begins to worry for the author's sanity. In recent years, Amis has certainly been in the eye of several storms. There were, among other rows, his provocative comments about Muslims, the mantra about Britain leading the world in decline, a passing witticism about euthanasia booths for the elderly, his confession that he would need to be brain-damaged to write for children. These carefully and publicly articulated views, often expressed around publication time, are those of a man who enjoys tickling things up a bit. It is utterly bogus to blame journalists for taking the bait he dangled.

There is a bigger question here. Is it really true, as Amis claims, that, unlike their American colleagues, serious British writers are regarded by the press with a "studied scepticism"? One does not have to look too far for the answer. Most successful novelists – Hilary Mantel, Howard Jacobson, Zadie Smith, Ian McEwan and others – have come to terms with needing to lead a double life, occasionally public but mostly private.

The rage of Martin Amis is upsetting to those who have admired him. One suspects that its cause is not journalists, nor a country leading the world in decline, but lies closer to home.

terblacker@aol.com

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: The final instalment of our WW1 series

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
 

Simon Usborne: The more you watch pro cycling, the more you understand its social complexity

Simon Usborne
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice