Martin Amis puts women, old people and J.M. Coetzee in their place
Martin Amis, now 60, seems determined to keep up his image as the enfant terrible of British letters well into his dotage. With a new novel to promote, he’s been tramping around London shooting his mouth off like an ill-mannered child at a dinner party.
Here are a few of the most outrageous soundbites:
“How is society going to support this silver tsunami?” Amis asks the London Times, calling for “euthanasia booths” on British street corners so doddering Baby Boomers can do the right thing.
“There’ll be a population of demented very old people, like an invasion of terrible immigrants, stinking out the restaurants and cafes and shops. I can imagine a sort of civil war between the old and the young in 10 or 15 years’ time.”
Hoo-wee, that Martin gives good quote! I guess only affluent oldsters still performing valuable public service, like writing novels and teaching creative writing at the University of Manchester, deserve to live out their natural lives.
Amis also takes the women’s movement to task, declaring that sexual equality is a century away, and blaming women for demanding too much too soon.
“Women should have got something really fixed before they did something else but they wanted to accrue more power,” Amis says in the London Telegraph. “Men and women should have agreed to do 50:50 in the home and I believe a great deal would have followed from that, but they didn’t – the women went Napoleonic.”
This is simply imbecilic. First, it echoes uncomfortably what paternalistic white people said to blacks in the Civil Rights era — know your place and be patient. Secondly, it neatly forgets that the modern women’s movement is now a half-century in the making, with significant social, economic and political gains to its credit. Third, it implicitly blames women for the discrimination they still face.
As for J.M. Coetzee, Amis said in an interview with Prospect Magazine that the Nobel Prize-winning South African novelist’s “whole style is predicated on transmitting no pleasure.” Okay, I can’t argue with him on that point, but Amis, being Amis, doesn’t stop there: “He’s got no talent.”
Thing is, Amis does not need to play bull-in-the-china-shop to draw attention to his new novel, The Pregnant Widow. He’s been a leading British novelist since his debut with The Rachel Papers in 1973. I haven’t read all 12 of his novels, but London Fields (1989) is an apocalyptic masterpiece. Time’s Arrow (1991) is a bold narrative experiment that approaches the horrors of the Holocaust in a fresh way.
His collection of essays, The War Against Cliche (2001), should be required reading for all writers. Experience (2000), which details, among other things, his relationship with his famous-author father, Kingsley Amis, is one of the best modern autobiographies I’ve read.
What’s more, early word from the British critics on The Pregnant Widow, a social satire set in the sexual revolution, are glowing. “Sumptuous,” raves Philip Hensher in the Telegraph, “beautifully achieved, cunningly relaxed.” Hensher demands a Man Booker prize for it: “I loved this novel and it warmed when I read it a second time.”
I don’t doubt it. Indeed, I’m looking forward to reading it myself. I could wish Amis might act his age, but, really, the chances of that happening are less than China signing a global emissions treaty.
Indeed, if Amis learned proper adult manners, who knows if he’d still be able to write? What do you think?
In any event don’t let his declarations stop you from picking up the new novel. Why deny yourself the pleasure of an important writer at the top of his game?