Martin Amis: A British author who matches up to some of the American giants (Isabel Fonesca)
What's in a first name? If you're writing a literary biography of Martin Amis and call him Martin throughout, quite a lot. Assumptions of intimacy negate critical distance, the whole point of the book. Bradford's excuse — that he has to distinguish between Amis senior and junior, and that he'd seen a fair bit of junior when compiling his biography — might just wash, were it not that Amis the younger comes out of it embarrassingly well. Embarrassing, that is, for Martin.
It would be interesting to know what Amis thought about this. Did Bradford ask permission? In Amis's position I would have refused. If ever an author's reputation stood in need of a no-nonsense, non-matey biography to blow away media froth and straighten out judgments so frequently warped by envy and political resentment, and generally take an objective view, it is his.
Personally I believe that many of the novels — because that's what we're talking about, isn't it? — would still come out of it pretty well. Maybe the man too, though the English habit of focusing on the performer rather than the performance warps intelligent criticism; Degas was a misanthrope and a virulent anti-Dreyfusard, but look at the pictures. In the light of the wilful fault-finding and scabrous coverage of Amis the man a cooler perspective was overdue.
As chairman of the Booker Prize judges in 1995 I was amazed by the refusal of three fifths of the panel to admit that The Information (not his best book, admittedly) had any virtue at all. As if in chastisement of the Amis approach to writing a prissily didactic novel won. Against The Ghost Road by Pat Barker, whose First World War hero is a modern paragon-anti-war and a war hero, lower class but well-read and intelligent, and bisexual to boot-Amis's messed-up, woman-harming lead character never stood a chance.