Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Martin Amis’s teeth


Julia Buckley ponders the rule that all literary publicity photos must show the author in an attitude of pensive gloom.

Why can’t they ever smile? In the case of Martin Amis, we know the reason: his teeth. Amis's mouth is a notorious disaster-zone which must never see the light of day.

Amis’s dental trials and tribulations form a major strand of his finest book, Experience . This strange, looping memoir is one of the best books I have ever read about anything.

I always enjoy reading his non-fiction and his print media articles, but I have a love-hate relationship with Amis’s novels, as indeed I do with his father’s. They are both intense writers, albeit in very different ways.

Martin has a unique genius for vivid descriptive prose, but his determination to always avoid the cliché at any cost is exhausting over a whole book. Kingsley is the opposite, writing in determinedly plain everyday English, but his extreme close-up, real-time style is claustrophobic and equally exhausting.

The four essential Amis books are:

Kingsley: The King's English and The Old Devils

Martin: Experience and The War Against Cliché.

27 comments:

Toque said...

The King's English is one of my favourites - it's a book I've picked up a few times over the years.

Complete snobbery but very funny for it.

Harry Eagar said...

There's a novel about bad teeth: 'Let Me Count the Ways' by Peter de Vries.

In my 20s I thought him very funny, but I guess I outgrew him.

erp said...

Why can't the English train competent dentists? We've been watching some Canadian and English television and are astonished at the bad teeth in the mouths of the actors even the younger ones.

Come on. Don't let our side down.

Brit said...

Yeah, nice national stereotyping erp. Why are you Americans all so fat and stupid?

Susan's Husband said...

Lack of Darwinian pressure?

Because we all have 5 or 6 illegal immigrants as servants?

Brit said...

All our dentists are illegal immigrants.

erp said...

I'll admit to fat, but not stupid and I have requisite gorgeous white teeth.

PS: It's not stereotyping when it's true.

Harry Eagar said...

Tea with sugar and milk all day long?

Hey Skipper said...

There is a Simpson's episode that features "The Book of British Smiles."

Based upon my memories of my time on the Mud Peanut, it seems neither British parents nor children view sluicing money into orthontics a rite of passage.

I'll have to read The Kings English; I have brought Kingsley's Stanley and the Women along for recreational re-reading.

Hey Skipper said...

"... orthodontics ..."

Aaargh.

martpol said...

A summary of the Amis books I've read: one cavalcade of genius (Money), two moments of brilliance (Time's Arrow and Lucky Jim), and one slice of distant and unmemorable strangeness (Other People).

Brit said...

Those rows of shiny American gnashers give us the willies. Raptor-like. Uncanny, like the Stepford Wives.

Peter Burnet said...

erp:

Yes, you should avoid stereotypes, especially when they lump Canadian teeth in with the Brits. It's an outrageous slander and completely untrue. However, if you want to lump our sparking pearlies in with you Americans, stereotype away.

Peter Burnet said...

BTW, Brit, how could you not include Lucky Jim in your list of must reads? I don't think anything else touches it.

David said...

Skipper: You should have just bluffed. I was perfectly prepared to believe that "orthontics" was a fancy word for the science of teeth straightening. If it's not, it should be.

Brit: Obviously, we're fat because it doesn't hurt to chew.

Also, what Peter said about Lucky Jim. I prefer Kingsley to Martin, having had exactly the same reaction to Money as Amis pere: when the "Martin Amis" character appeared, we threw the book across the room.

erp said...

Peter, I'm so sorry, but after watching approximately 2,000 +or- episodes of "Da Vinci's Inquest," it's become very apparent that not all of our good neighbors in the great white north are holding up American standards of dental excellency.

Brit said...

Lucky Jim is good, but The Old Devils is great.

Julia Buckley said...

Yeah, but he could still do a bit of tight-lipped grin if he really wanted to. Or do you think he's still down about his teeth?

Brit said...

His teeth consume him, Julia. They chew him up inside.

erp said...

I don't know about Julia. She says she's a Brit, but with that gorgeous smile, she might be an ex-pat Yank trying to pass.

Julia Buckley said...

I can assure you Erp that when I am trying to pass my grin looks rather less than gorgeous.

;-)

Thanks for complement.

Brit said...

Erp thinks all Brits have bad teeth. Julia does not have bad teeth and is a Brit. Erp concludes that therefore Julia is only pretending to be a Brit.

Thus the conspiracy theorist merely jumps to the next level of conspiracy upon being confronted with negating evidence.

Julia Buckley said...

Um, I meant 'compliment'.

Although Erp's comment does follow from mine quite nicely.

erp said...

Flouridation cuckoos still out there after all these years and blaming Bush retroactively to when he was a babe in arms. Aeieeeeeeee!

BTW here are the Pearly Whites. All the original equipment still going strong after seven decades on the job.

erp said...

Obviously I don't think all Brits have bad teeth. Only that many of them do and I find it surprising that even actors who make their living showing their teeth on a huge movie screens for millions to see up close, wouldn't make the effort to neaten them up a bit.

Even us fat and stupid Americans know enough to make sure our actors present a nice slim figure when going out in public.

I guess like dental care, humor don't cross the pond easily. Regarding Julia's smile, although it is beautiful, my positing that she must be a Yank because of it was an attempt at that particularly British literary device, ironic humor, and not doing a very good job of it.

Oroborous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julia Buckley said...

Sure Erp, I got what you meant. I think it's my attempt at humour in my reply that's lying dead in the water here!

Never mind, I'm used to it.