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Martin Amis Biography

(1949– ), The Rachel Papers, Dead Babies, Success, Other People, Money, London Fields, femme fatale

English novelist, born in Oxford, the son of Kingsley Amis, educated at Exeter College, Oxford. Amis began his literary career with The Rachel Papers (1973; Somerset Maugham Award, 1974), a scabrously funny account of a young man's sentimental education, narrated in the first person by its precociously articulate 19-year-old hero, Charles Highway. Dead Babies (1975) is a surreal black comedy set in a country rectory inhabited by louche, aristocratic Quentin Villiers, his wife Celia, and an assortment of freaks, sybarites, and psychopaths. Amis explored ideas about the nature of identity in his equally disturbing Success (1978) and in his later fiction which abounds with doubles, schizophrenics, and mirror images. Other People (1981), narrated in the third person, concerns Mary Lamb, an amnesiac wandering the streets of London in search of her lover who may be her killer. The novel contains many passages of fine descriptive writing whose imagery is reminiscent of the Martian poets. Money (1984), set in 1981, concerns the materialistic greed of the period and the disintegration of post-war egalitarianism. Its obese and lascivious hero, John Self, is a film producer entailed in tying up the financial backing for his first major film. Moving between London and New York, the novel chronicles the stages of Self's quest for wealth and sexual gratification and describes his encounters with a variety of grotesques. Despite its overt preoccupation with various forms of exchange, the novel's central theme is the nature of identity. A looming but unspecified catastrophe underlies London Fields (1989); set in 1999, it concerns a beautiful femme fatale, Nicola Six, whose quest for annihilation unfolds in a background of seedy urban wasteland. Despite its overt concern for the destruction of the planet, the novel is as blackly comic and as stylistically exuberant as much of his work. The more experimental Time's Arrow (1991) represents a departure from Amis's previous work; borrowing a narrative conceit from an episode in K. Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, Amis envisages a world where time runs backwards and in which everything, morality included, is turned on its head. This and the fact that the novel's protagonist, first encountered in old age and later seen in earlier incarnations, is a former Nazi officer overseeing the medical experiments on concentration camp prisoners at Auschwitz, provoked controversy when the novel first appeared. The Information (1995) was similarly controversial, not so much for its subject, but for the substantial advance (of about £500,000) negotiated by the author's American agent. The novel deals with familiar themes of literary jealousy, the conflict between creative integrity and worldly success, and the breakdown of urban society; with Money and London Fields, The Information completes Amis's ‘London’ trilogy. Stylistically, Amis remains one of the most inventive of his contemporaries; at its best, his writing displays a sharpness of focus and a linguistic concentration which, while undoubtedly highly mannered, offers diverse pleasures to the reader. This, combined with the appealing cynicism of his observations, has made him one of the most widely admired and imitated writers of his generation. A collection of essays on American themes, The Moronic Inferno (1986), includes interviews with writers he admires, such as S. Bellow and J. Updike. Other writers for whom he has expressed admiration and whose influence can be discerned in his work include V. Nabokov, J. G. Ballard, and J. Borges. He has also published a collection of short stories, Einstein's Monsters (1987), which deal with the nuclear threat, and a collection of journalistic pieces and literary criticism, Visiting Mrs Nabokov (1993).

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Agha Shahid Ali Biography to Ardoch Perth and Kinross