I’ve followed the career of Martin Amis for many years now, from the highs of Money, London Fields and Time’s Arrow through the lows of Yellow Dog and Lionel Asbo, right up to 2014’s superb return to form with Zone of Interest. One of the most interesting works was the autobiographical memoir Experience, published at the turn of the century. This new novel has some overlap with that book, with Amis describing it as a ‘novelised autobiography’. It’s a long, engaging work, focussing on themes of love and death and covering the author’s life from the seventies all the way up to last year. In particular, it deals with his friendship with, and grief at the loss of, Saul Bellow, Philip Larkin and Christopher Hitchens, as well as his relationship with the apparently fictional Phoebe Phelps, who perhaps may (or may not) be an amalgam of various girlfriends along the way. As always with Amis, you get the impression that every sentence, if not every word, has been carefully pondered over, honed and polished till it shines, but throughout this book the reader is never entirely sure what is actual fact and what is a fictionalised account of events. Indeed, the whole book zigzags around in time and subject matter, switching from the first person to the third and making extensive (sometimes too extensive) use of footnotes as it varies between novel, memoir and almost a ‘how to write’ manual. Overall. I found this quite an uneven work, at times extremely enjoyable and witty, at others quite hard going, but the actual quality of the writing itself never falls below the author’s always high standards. On balance, the good does outweigh the run of the mill, and if, as Amis says, this is likely to be his final long novel then it’s certainly not a bad way to leave the stage.
Length of Read:Long
Might appeal to people who enjoyed…
Previous works by Amis. Literary novels.
One thing you’ve learned
The strongest parts of the novel are the moving and tender accounts of the final days of his three dearest friends, where Amis demonstrates that he can still conjure up all the old magic when the muse is with him.