Martin Amis, the son of Kingsley Amis and acclaimed author in his own right, has died at his home in Florida of oesophageal cancer aged 73. He passed away on the 19th May and is survived by his wife, children and grandchildren.
Although his father was a renowned author who wrote on of my favourite novels ever, Lucky Jim, Martin Amis made a name for himself in his own right thanks to his unique brand of observational humour and creative characterisation.
In the 1980s, alongside seminal writers like Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro and others, Amis was credited with shaping the UK writing scene. His work is usually character-driven and deeply droll, as he delves into the worst of human, usually male, nature. He created several seminal novels, including Money, a first-person narration telling the story of a chaotic and hedonistic New York film director, and London Fields, a comedic take on a dystopian novel crossed with a murder-mystery.
Most of Amis’s books have a major plot twist, which usually turns the entire premise of the novel on its head. Amis was also famed for his unreliable first-person narrators, who were often men at the very end of their tethers, who indulge in substance abuse and are often mentally unstable. He was also deeply concerned by the accession of nuclear power, and wrote several novels and stories around the subject, including his essay and short-story collection Einstein’s Monsters, the award-winning Money.
Almost every book by Amis was on a major topic that affected humanity, including the sexual revolution and feminism, as explored in The Pregnant Widow, terrorism in the short stories from
The Second Plane, Stalin’s Soviet Union crimes in Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million and even his own relationship with his father in his memoir Experience, which he wrote following Kingsley Amis’s death in the late 1990s. Amis often wrote set his novels in or around London, and was known for writing about Americans in the country in particular, and their culture differs drastically from British sensibilities.
Each work is heavily researched, particularly when it involves a real-life event, and is engaging thanks the author’s unique perspective and hard-drive prose. Every word is put to work to drive the narrative onwards, and Amis never missed an opportunity to deliver a gut-punch that will shock and inspire the reader. His works changed opinions and opened up new dialogues about tough subjects, and while his words weren’t always taken well by some, they were always delivered with a great deal of respect and an attempt at understanding and empathy.
Alongside his extensive back catalogue of written work, which included essays, short stories and novels, Amis also taught at the University of Manchester, and worked to mould the next generation of authors. He was known to struggle when communicating his idealogical views, especially when it came to discussing religion and politics, but he was still a vocal writer who enjoyed sharing his views on the latest news with the world in the form of columns and articles in some of the major newspapers and essays shared in various collections. Even those who disagreed with Amis, and I was, at times one of them, had to admit that the man was empathetic and informed even when making statements we didn’t agree with.
Overall, the sudden death of Martin Amis at a relatively young age by today’s standards is a great shame for those who loved classic literature and enjoyed his witty dialogue and incredibly unique takes on the human condition. His family are in my thoughts as I re-read old favourites and miss this titan of the literary community.