Remembering Martin Amis: “It’s the deaths of others that kill you in the end.”

Martin Amis: He didn’t smile for the camera … any camera… (Photo: Bryan Appleyard)

Never met Martin Amis in person, but I was a dozen feet away from him eleven years ago at Stanford’s Cemex auditorium – and wrote about it here. “As you get older – and this has to be faced – most writers go off,” said.  “I lay the blame at the feet of medical science.”

He cited W.B. Yeats: “Now I may wither into the truth,” he said. But although occasionally withering, he was far from withered. I wrote about him here and here and here, among other places.

In a puzzling move, he began the evening by recounting long lists of Nazi atrocities – a return to Time’s Arrow.  The subject matter is timeless, he said, and defies “that greasy little word – closure.”  (Fine.  About time someone took that cliché down.) “Rule Number One:  Nobody gets over anything.  It’s the deaths of others that kill you in the end.”

He was already thinking about death, and he died on May 19, of esophageal cancer, the same disease that claimed his friend, the author and journalist Christopher Hitchens, in 2011.

From Boyd Tonkin, writing in The Guardian, about the “writer whose acrobatic wit defied gravity and solemnity and who epitomised literary fame in an age of glitz and hype.”

“The writer Martin Amis, who has died aged 73, delighted, provoked, inspired and outraged readers of his fiction, reportage and memoirs across a literary career that set off like a rocket and went on to dazzle, streak and burn for almost 50 years. His scintillating verbal artistry, satirical audacity and sheer imaginative verve at every level from word-choice to plot-shape announced a blazing, once-in-a-generation talent.”

Read the rest here. A few words from a few who knew him. From the journalist and author Bryan Appleyard:

I saw Martin Amis in Brooklyn in 2014 and took this photo (above). I asked him to smile but he said he could not act. He had asked me to bring him a packet of rolling tobacco from London. I took him two packets. He smoked incessantly. In some interviews it looked as if his trousers were on fire. He died of esophageal cancer. He was a dazzling writer and deserves all the tributes and more. RIP

From the Hungarian poet and translator George Szirtes:

It’s oddly shocking to hear of the death of Martin Amis. A certain energy, a bullish certainty, a kind of headlong barrage of wit and Eighties street-wisdom passes with him. As a public figure he was almost more than himself. He was just a few months younger than me and he always seemed young. I met him only once when we were seated next to each other at a dinner in Manchester though I can’t remember what the occasion was. We talked a little about Thomas Hardy‘s poetry and Philip Larkin‘s too. He quoted chunks. He was friendly and mild and sad, possibly rueful. Novelists – did he say poets too? – should stop writing before they get old, he sighed. He was not joking. He had crashed out of critical adulation by then. The new wave of feminist writers had little time for him and his prestige counted against him. The £500,000 advance, the affair of the new teeth (reminds me I am back at the dentist on Monday), the book on Stalin, and the strange Booker-listing of Time’s Arrow, which – for me – was him at his brilliant but preening worst in the worst of all causes, did seem to hollow him out a little. But Money, for example, remains the work of a stunningly vivid writer. There also remains the image of the Fenton-Hitchens-Amis intellectual triumvirate with Fenton, in my view, the most princely of poets and Hitchens the most entertaining and commanding of polemicists. I imagine Clive James and John Fuller standing in the wings. And there also remains the suggestion – whose, I don’t remember – that the Eighties explosion of so-called ‘Martian’ poetry, referred to as Martianism, was so named as an anagram of Martin Amis, either that or (more likely) that it was a reference to Craig Raine‘s book of poems, A Martian Sends a Postcard Home (1979). Much remains in other words. I liked the weary, rueful man at the Manchester dinner table and I do feel a sense of shock that he is gone. A slice of historical voice is gone with him. He was not an old man but a young man grown older.

From the Polish poet, literary critic, translator, and essayist Jerzy Jarniewicz

Martin Amis, author of, among others, London Fields, The Information, and Time’s Arrow, has died; also (although he did not write poems himself) co-founder of the poetic school called the “Martian School.” There is a well-known tale about fools who wanted to see the moon, and when someone finally pointed at it, they looked at the pointing finger. I’d say that Martin Amis was looking at his finger – not because, however, like this fool, he didn’t know that it was pointing at the moon – but because he was more interested in his fingers than blue bodies suspended far away in space. Especially since the father’s generation made him look at the moon for a long time. I wrote about Amis (father and son) in the “Attendance Note,” where you can also find a conversation that we had with Peter Sommer in November 1995.

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One Response to “Remembering Martin Amis: “It’s the deaths of others that kill you in the end.””

  1. Wladimir Says:

    One of the most striking benefits or reading books is that it improves critical thinking skills and expands one’s world view. As a society we have stopped reading and plain to see. One of the most influential books I have read was Time’s Arrow which turned my world view (literally) upside down.