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Martin Amis

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Martin Amis

Martin Amis (1949-Present) is an English author and essayist known for his darkly humorous depictions of life in late 20th-century Britain. The son of renowned author Kingsley Amis (1922-1995), Amis has been publishing novels and nonfiction works since the 1970s. His most famous novels are London Fields (1989) and Money: A Suicide Note (1984).

Martin Amis: Biography

Here is a look at the important events in Martin Amis' life.

Early Life and Education

Martin Amis was born in Oxford, England, on August 25, 1949. Son of renowned English author Kingsley Amis (1922-1995), Amis was raised in a comfortable middle-class family. When Kingsley's book Lucky Jim (1954) became an international hit, the family briefly relocated to New Jersey while Kingsley taught at Princeton University.

How did Amis' relationship with his father, Kingsley, impact his writing career?

Amis struggled at school and had no interest in literature, reading only comic books. After his parents' divorce, Amis' father remarried the novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard (1923-2014). Howard encouraged Amis to read the classic novels of Jane Austen (1775-1817). This early exposure sparked Amis' love of literature, and he began to think about following in his father's footsteps.

Martin Amis, Books, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Reading Austen's Pride and Prejudice (1813) had a transformative effect on Amis.

After graduating from Oxford University with a first-class degree in English, Amis interned at The London Times. His reviews and think pieces for the paper's literary supplement earned him a position at The New Statesman magazine. At the age of 27, he became the magazine's literary editor.

Early Novels

His first novel, The Rachel Papers (1973), is a semi-autobiographical tale of an awkward but intelligent adolescent's first love. The book was a hit and earned Amis the Somerset Maugham Award. He followed this success with Dead Babies (1975) and Success (1977). Both novels were darkly humorous and featured unlikable characters; these would later become characteristics of Amis' writing.

Amis often uses dark humor and hideous characters to highlight social problems. Could this style alienate his readers? Why or why not?

In 1980, Amis wrote the screenplay for the sci-fi movie Saturn 3 and used his experience with the film industry as the basis for his next novel, Money: A Suicide Note (1984). A twisted satire on the money-obsessed culture of the 1980s, Amis uses the book to comment on the emptiness of consumerism and capitalism.

Martin Amis, One Dollar Bill and Pig, StudySmarterFig. 2 - John Self, the protagonist of Money, is the embodiment of 1980s greed and excess.

Amis ventured into nonfiction with a collection of essays about his experience of American culture entitled The Moronic Inferno and Other Visits to America (1986). His first collection of short stories, "Einstein's Monsters" (1987), deals with the threat of nuclear warfare and contains "The Immortals," his most popular short story.

Having been a fixture on the literary scene, Martin Amis is friends with some of the world's most recognizable writers, including Saul Bellow (1915-2005) and Salman Rushdie (1947-Present).

Success

In 1989, Amis' cemented his reputation as one of Britain's leading literary voices with London Fields. A murder mystery set at the end of the millennium, the work deals with themes of capitalism and alienation in his home city. He followed this success with Time's Arrow (1991). The highly experimental novel details the life of a German doctor who carried out cruel experiences during the Holocaust. The book is notable for Amis's use of reverse narrative as he unfolds the doctor's life backward. Time's Arrow received high praise from critics and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

Martin Amis, London, StudySmarterFig. 3 - Amis' hometown of London is the setting for many of his works.

After Money and London Fields, Amis closed his "London Trilogy" with The Information in 1995. The book saw Amis reflect on his writing success and the challenges of middle age. Before the book was published, Amis provoked controversy by demanding a massive advance fee.

Like some of his characters, the real-life Martin Amis is known for being a controversial and polarizing figure. Outspoken and often contentious, critics and pundits have accused Amis of holding racist, misogynistic and Islamophobic views. For most of his career, he has been a target of the British tabloids who've repeatedly splashed his personal life and affairs across the papers.

Marin Amis, Tabloids, StudySmarterFig. 4 - The British press has criticized Amis for his views, writing, and teeth!

Journalists have often portrayed the writer as difficult and ill-tempered. One journalist even went so far as to pen a think piece entitled "Why we love to hate Martin Amis." 1 In 1995, the writer stirred controversy when he demanded a massive advance of $500,000 for his upcoming novel, The Information (1995). The press accused Amis of being greedy and arrogant. The incident damaged Amis' reputation and led to a falling out with his friend, author Julian Barnes (1946-Present).

In response to the criticism, Amis has satirized the damaging social impact of tabloid journalism in many of his novels.

Later Career

The 2000s saw Amis mature as a writer with his memoirs, Experience (2000), detailing the author's strained relationship with his father. The book was lauded for its candid honesty and humor. Throughout the decade, Amis dabbled in historical fiction and continued to publish essays on politics and culture. He remained a well-known public intellectual, appearing on television and continued to court controversy with his outspoken opinions.

At 5'6", Amis often jokes about his short stature. His close friend, Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011), would begin letters to Amis with the line," Dear little Keith." 1

From 2007 to 2011, Amis taught creative writing at the University of Manchester and hosted several public discussions on various social issues. In 2010, he moved to Brooklyn, New York, where he continues to write.

Martin Amis: Books

Since emerging into the literary scene in the 1970s, Martin Amis has published over 40 books, including 20 novels, essay collections, and volumes of poetry. Here is a look at his most popular novels.

The London Trilogy: Money: A Suicide Note (1984), London Fields (1989), and The Information (1995)

A trio of stories connected by setting, the London Trilogy contains Amis' most popular works. The collection begins with Money: A Suicide Note, a biting satire on the money-obsessed 1980s. John Self is a gluttonous London ad director who's given the chance to direct an American movie. Amis uses dark humor to explore the empty commercialism of American culture and greed.

London Fields is a murder mystery novel that subverts many of the genre's tropes. It's 1999, and with the new millennium approaching, everyday life in London grinds on under the threat of a nuclear and environmental apocalypse. The novel's narrator is an American writer living in London and trying to come to terms with his approaching death. He becomes embroiled with a small-time gangster and soon finds himself implicated in the murder of a beautiful woman. Amis uses the novel to explore themes of sex and aging.

In the trilogy's final entry, Amis draws from his own experience in the publishing business to create a story of jealousy and revenge. The Information follows failed author Richard Tull as he closes in on middle age and grows increasingly jealous of his friend's success. Tull begins to plot his friend's downfall and becomes consumed by the quest for fame and revenge. Amis employs his trademark dark humor to deal with midlife crises and mortality.

Time's Arrow (1991)

Time's Arrow tells the life story of Odilo Unverdorben, a German doctor who conducted a series of inhumane experiments Nazi concentration camps. The events of Unverdorben's life unfold backward, starting with his death and tracing back to birth. Through the narrative, the doctor's horrific actions are reversed; instead of a torturer, he becomes a healer.

One of Amis' most ambitious and critically acclaimed books, Time's Arrow, is the author's reflection on the nature of time and morality.

Martin Amis: Writing Style and Technique

Martin Amis' writing is characterized by his use of dark humor and satire to comment on the excess of life in late 20th century Britain.

Satire and Humor

In his autobiographical novel Inside Story (2020), Amis states, "Writers are funny because life is funny." 2 Though his outlook is often mistaken for pessimism and cynicism, Amis actually uses dark humor to highlight life's absurdities. His protagonists are sometimes unsympathetic antiheroes who Amis subjects to humorous misfortunes for the reader's pleasure. Amis often creates comedy by showing the distance between the character's thoughts and actions.

The writer uses his unlikeable characters to satirize the institutions and the culture of modern Britain. In Money, John Self represents the greed and consumerism of the 1980s. At the same time, Amis does not spare himself from criticism. The narrator of London Fields is a writer like Amis but is presented as unreliable and untrustworthy. He satirizes his experience with the cutthroat literary business in The Information. Amis even uses humor in his memoirs to discuss his complicated relationship with his father. Like his father, Kingsley, Amis frequently uses obscenities to shock his reader's sensibilities.

Postmodernism

Martin Amis' employs many postmodernist techniques in his writing. In Time's Arrow, he rejects standard narrative structure to tell a life story in reverse. He often uses unreliable narrators and experiments with form. Thematically, many of his works deal with characters who feel detached and alienated from the shallowness of contemporary life and culture. Like many postmodernists, Amis' writing has a cynical tone and is skeptical of significant institutions.

Postmodernism is a literary genre that rejects the standard rules of literature in favor of experimentation and innovation. Key characteristics of postmodern literature include non-linear narratives, metafiction, and unreliable narrators.

As a writer, Amis often draws attention to the fictional nature of his works. In Money, he inserts himself as a character to blur the line between fiction and reality. By doing this, Amis is able to explore and challenge the relationship between writer and reader. Many of Amis' protagonists have served as literary stand-ins at various points in his life, from the angry young man of The Rachel Papers to the writer suffering a midlife crisis in The Information.

Martin Amis: Themes

Much of Amis' work contains sharp social commentary on life in late 20th century Britain, mainly focusing on the changing nature of London.

Capitalism

Amis is highly critical of the greed and self-obsession generated by modern capitalism. The author often explores the social implications of consumerism and uses junk food and pornography as symbols of decay. His protagonists are often shown consuming everyday goods and services but are left feeling unfulfilled. Many of his characters are willing to break the law to make money and see wealth as a way to escape their boring lives. Ultimately, Amis usually presents this obsession with money as a degrading and destructive force in the lives of his characters.

Masculinity

Most Amis' protagonists are men struggling with masculinity's limitations, often expressed by their need for sexual conquest. They are driven by sexual urges but lack the emotional skills to develop long-term relationships with women, which leads to frustration and self-loathing. Amis' men are often examples of British "bloke" culture—hard-drinking, working-class men who are politically conservative and resistant to change. They commit acts of violence to assert their masculinity. Amis employs these caricatures to comment on modern masculinity, but his depictions have drawn criticism from feminists. Similarly, Amis has been criticized for creating female characters who are flat and unrealistic.

Martin Amis: Quotes

Martin Amis's prose is noted for the writer's dark and sometimes twisted sense of humor. He often uses a cynical tone to critique modern life. Here is a look at some of his key quotes.

"He awoke at six, as usual. He needed no alarm clock. He was already comprehensively alarmed." -The Information (Ch. 1)

Amis's leads are often reflections of the writer himself—bitter cynics who've seen it all. He employs an acidic tone to find the humor in the frustrations of everyday life.

"Death helps. Death gives us something to do. Because it's a fulltime job looking the other way." London Fields (Ch. 12)

The humor in Amis' work is not solely used to complain; he often uses his punchy prose to reveal deep insights into living. Though he likes to explore the dark side of human nature, Amis also shows that in the face of life's struggles, people should retain a sense of humor.

Martin Amis - Key takeaways

  • Martin Amis is an English novelist and the son of renowned author Kingsley Amis.
  • He is known for using dark humor and satire to comment on life in late 20th century Britain.
  • Amis' most famous work is London Fields, a darkly humorous murder mystery.
  • Amis often draws from his own life and experiences as inspiration for his novels.
  • Amis often experiments with form, style, and narrative techniques as a postmodern writer.

1 Sam Leith, "Why we love to hate Martin Amis," The Guardian, 2014.

2 Martin Amis, Inside Story: A Novel, 2020.

Frequently Asked Questions about Martin Amis

Martin Amis is an English novelist known for his dark humor and postmodern techniques. 

Yes, Martin Amis did write "Einstein's Monsters." The short story collection deals with the threat of nuclear war. 

Yes, Martin Amis did write "The Immortals." The short story that appears in the collection "Einstein's Monsters" is from the perspective of an immortal entity that witnesses evolution.  

Martin Amis has written 15 novels, five short story collections, and ten nonfiction books. 

Money: A Suicide Note is a dark satire on greed and capitalism. 

Final Martin Amis Quiz

Question

Martin Amis is the son of renowned author ________ Amis. 

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Answer

Kingsley

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Question

Amis' stepmother introduced him to the writing of __________ at an early age. 

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Answer

Jane Austen

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Question

What is the title of Amis' first novel? 

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Answer

The Rachel Papers

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Question

Which British magazine employed Amis as its literary editor? 

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Answer

The New Statesman

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Question

In Money: A Suicide Note, Amis satirizes the excesses of __________.

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Answer

Capitalism 

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Question

Amis' most famous short story "The Immortals" appears in the collection __________. 

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Answer

"Einstein's Monsters"

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Question

Martin Amis is known for his ability to portray well-rounded female characters.  

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Answer

False

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Question

Protagonists in the novels of Martin Amis are usually English men. 

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Answer

True

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Question

Time's Arrow is about a scientist who creates a time machine. 

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Answer

False

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Question

Martin Amis is most associated with the literary movement known as __________. 

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Answer

Postmodernism

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Question

Time's Arrow is an example of ________ fiction. 

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Answer

Postmodern

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Question

In which country does Tod Friendly reside? 

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Answer

USA

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Question

Time's Arrow  uses a __________ storyline. 

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Answer

Nonlinear

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The entity which resides in Tod Friendly is unable to affect its host's actions or thoughts. 

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Answer

True

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Question

Tod Friendly's real name is __________. 

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Answer

Odilo Unverdorben

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Question

The novel's title comes from a work by which Italian author? 

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Answer

Primo Levi 

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Question

In the novel time flows in a linear fashion. 

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Answer

False

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Question

Which identity does the doctor first use when he reaches America? 

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Answer

John Young

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Question

Dr. Odilo Unverdorben is a doctor at ___________. 

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Answer

Auschwitz 

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Question

The entity is a non-traditional narrator. 

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Answer

True

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