Martin Amis – Bad Boy of English Letters?: Background information when reading The Zone of Interest

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The Zone of Interest

by Martin Amis

The Zone of Interest by Martin Amis X
The Zone of Interest by Martin Amis
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2014, 320 pages

    Jul 2015, 320 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kate Braithwaite
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About this Book

Martin Amis – Bad Boy of English Letters?

This article relates to The Zone of Interest

Print Review

The road to publication for Martin Amis' latest novel, The Zone of Interest, has been less smooth than might be imagined, given that Amis is one of the stars of the British literary firmament. The New York Times reported that in France and Germany, Amis' longtime publishers rejected it on the grounds, in France, that its humor is puzzling and, in Germany, that it would be difficult to market.

Given that The Zone of Interest takes an unflinching look at the mechanics of death and body disposal at Auschwitz, and that Amis includes a love story and strong elements of gallows humor within the novel, perhaps those publishers have a point. But Amis, who describes himself as "surprised and disappointed," is unlikely to be too perturbed and may well write off this hiccup as just one more controversy in a career with many.

Martin Amis Martin Amis is the son of another famous British novelist, Kingsley Amis, and although he credits his initial welcome into the publishing world to his father's influence, much has been written about this father and son phenomenon and their relationship as writers, including the story that Amis' father actually stopped halfway through reading his son's novel Money and threw it across the room. In an interview with The Paris Review in 1998, Amis confirmed the story saying, 'I'm almost certain that it was the introduction of a minor character called Martin Amis that caused my father to send the book windmilling through the air.'

His father's disapproval did not dampen Amis' spirits for long though, as he humorously explained: "He didn't like Jane Austen, didn't like Dickens, didn't like Fielding, didn't like Lawrence, didn't like Joyce, didn't like any Americans. And was ill-equipped to judge any of the Russians, the French, the South Americans, etcetera. So I began to feel a bit better about him not liking my stuff either."

Amis certainly gained a reputation for having confidence in his own writing in 1994, demanding (and getting) an unprecedentedly large advance for his novel The Information in the process of which he replaced his publisher Random House and his agent, Pat Kavanagh, wife of another acclaimed literary novelist, Julian Barnes. In the fall-out, novelist A.S. Byatt famously grumbled that Amis was being greedy, "simply because he has a divorce to pay for and has just had all his teeth redone."

More recently, post 9/11, Amis has been outspoken on the subject of Islamic extremism and has faced criticism for suggesting Muslims should "suffer until they get their house in order," and supporting measures such as "strip searching people who look like they are from the Middle East, Pakistan, until it hurts the whole community and they start getting tough with their children."

On BBC Radio 4 in 2013 he expressed regret for these and other provocative remarks he has made over the years, but given his record and press interest in him, it is not surprising to find that in 2007 The Guardian described him in one paragraph both as "Britain's greatest living author," and "the one time enfant terrible of British literature." Of his singular place as "the British literary maverick," he said at the time, "It's my dream to go from being the bad boy of English letters to the bad man of English letters. I thought that might happen after my father died but it still seems to be with me. So, I'll probably go to my grave as the bad boy of English letters."

Eight years on, over 65 years old, with the publication of The Zone of Interest, his sixteenth work of fiction, it appears that he is right. For in addition to a controversy about his latest work in Europe, it seems Amis may have been immortalized in fiction in the work of David Mitchell. Claims that the character Crispin Hershey in Mitchell's novel The Bone Clocks is based on Martin Amis, are the latest in a long history of press interest that shows little sign of abating as the years go by.

Filed under Books and Authors

Article by Kate Braithwaite

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Zone of Interest. It originally ran in October 2014 and has been updated for the July 2015 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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