Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Martin Amis, pauses, gender

Jon Hotten notes the medialand rumblings that foretell the release of a new Martin Amis novel (The Pregnant Widow - great title) and observes that Mart is “a member of the last generation capable of talking in fully-formed sentences. There are no, 'I was like, you know...'s” .

This is true, though I suspect that Amis manages this largely by leaving the spaces between clauses - which other interviewees would fill with “you know”s or “ummm”s or other tics- as silent pauses. This is a good knack to have since it gives the impression of gravitas, but then talking in fully formed sentences is very, very difficult and even pausing requires self-discipline and nerve.

I’ve never quite worked out how smart Mart is. Certainly he views himself as a Thinker but he often seems to be carried well out of his intellectual depth on the sails of his own verbosity, eg. recently on Muslims.

(While writing this I’ve just remembered that in the first incarnation of the blog I attempted a homage to the Martin Amis style with this piece on American teeth. Reading back, it’s not quite as bad as I thought it might be but three years ago does seem like another lifetime, proving once again that blogtime flies even faster than real time).

But I greatly admire Amis’s gift for getting to the nub of a thing, for expressing a viewpoint, often controversial, in a single, memorable, highly convincing phrase. There was a striking example in his Sunday Times interview this week, especially given the release of another high-profile book in which Natasha Walter u-turns in despair at the fate of feminism.

Note the Amis Pause before the (emboldened) profundity:

“I know women now full of regret at just not worrying about [having babies] until it really was too late,” he says. “Three or four friends, who would have been very good mothers, but…” He pauses. “The sex revolution wasn’t a bad thing. In fact it was a cornucopia of opportunity. But it is a massive project to rethink an entire gender, and behaving like men was the only model women had. It was never in their interests to be like that. The sex wasn’t in their nature.”

19 comments:

Willard said...

Though I don't enter into the popular game of Amis baiting. I do have doubts about him as a novelist. Locally, in the sentence, he can be stunning. It leaves me thinking that he really is the real deal. But then, I've never got through one of his novels without a struggle.

His essays, though, are something else. He's a great essay writer. Also very good to listen to on subjects that engage him.

Brit said...

Yes, "The War against Cliche" essays are brilliant. And "Experience" one of my favourite books.

Gaw said...

He said something very wise about feminism on the Newsnight 30th birthday programme of last Saturday night: the first and most important goal for feminists should have been the down-to-earth one of insisting work in the home is split 50/50. The frisson of fear amongst the men on the panel was tangible even through the TV screen.

He was less good on the world, as I relate over at my place, coincidentally. (BTW, Brit, you've explained his sudden leap in visibility: a new book to push).

Willard, I suspect he's suffering from what a lot of long-term novelists suffer from: long-term employment as a novelist. I feel he's been straining for material he really knows intimately for a number of years. He should go and work on a pig farm or something for a while.

David said...

I was greatly pleased to learn, after the fact, that Kingley's reaction to Money was the same as mine: upon the appearance of "Martin Amis" we flung the book across the room and read no more.

Brit said...

Yeah that was very annoying, but I managed to hurdle it and finish the book.

Susan said...

Money convinced me that Martin Amis is a genius. I also very much enjoyed The Rachel Papers, Success, Other People and Dead Babies (though that was a bit of a struggle) For me, he went off the boil a bit after that - too complicated. Perhaps that's just me?

As for the Sunday Times article, I can understand Amis' remarks, coming as they do from a man - but it's not essential for women to give birth to validate their sex, just as it's not essential for men to sleep around to justify their manhood. And Amis obviously hasn't been getting out much lately, otherwise he'd have noticed that sisters are still doing it - and not just by themselves

Brit said...

I'm not sure the point is about validating gender, more that some, but obviously not all, childless women sacrificed happiness for the sake of proving that they can validate their gender in alternative ways, ie. making an intellectual point. But why should validating one's gender matter a damn anyway - who looks back on life and thinks "Well at least I validated my gender...."?

Willard said...

They validate our gender when we pay for groceries at our local Asda. Or it that parking tickets?

malty said...

Gender validation, joining homosexuality and carbon trading as this years hot fashion ticket.
I think tomorrow I will stop breathing, just to prove that I can, validating, as it were, my alpha male position in the great gender race.

First past the post fills the dishwasher.

Jon Hotten said...

Agree entirely about Experience and his journalism - both touch greatness at times. It's interesting that in Experience he notes that Kingsley's worst period as a novelist came at a time when he was unhappy and rootless after his second marriage broke up. Then he got settled again and write The Old Devils. I wonder if Mart sees a parallel [although he'd never admit it] in that his worst period as a novelist followed the divorce, the teeth and all of that. Am hoping that the new one kicks ass. The set-up is Dead Babies-esque, and there's a 'Keith' in it apparently.

Susan said...

What I was getting at is women are (usually) equipped to give birth, whether we choose to or not (ie that men and women are fundamentally different) - but why should this preclude us from seeking 'equality' with men - intellectually, sexually or otherwise?

And unhappiness isn't exclusive to the fairer sex. Happiness is a state of mind (though obviously affected by hormones).

Just off to fill the dishwasher...

Gaw said...

Jon, isn't Keith a respectable middle class name? I've always wondered at Amis's use of for his thuggish working/under class characters. A minor point perhaps, but it does make you wonder about how comfortable he is with the milieu.

Gadjo Dilo said...

I confess I was never a huge fan of Amis fils, having given up after 2 pages of London Fields thinking "this is rather nasty". But that Sunday Times interview is an excellent piece, showing up both interviewer and interviewee rather well. As an older, very hippish ex-girlfriend of mine once said sadly: "The sexual revolution was fine for men, they can separate sex from love".

Gadjo Dilo said...

'hippyish'

Brit said...

I think 'Keith' is just the naffest name Mart can think of. I understand that the Keith in his new one is himself, an uppity English graduate, rather than the usual yobbo.

Jon Hotten said...

Gaw, I do have a keith-related tale re Mart: when he was researching London Fields he interviewed Keith Deller for a piece about darts [it's in Visiting Mrs Nabokov and it's very funny]. A few years later I interviewed Deller too [not that I'm trying to align myself with Mart here - it was for a mag] and he had very fond memories of Amis and was delighted with the fact he'd used his name for Keith Talent. I'm not sure he'd actually read all of the book though because he kept saying 'yeah well, the wife's the bad one, isn't she, so I always say to the wife, well, he got you down there, didn't he...''

There's obviously Keith the dwarf in Dead Babies before then, but maybe it's the darting influence that has him using it as a lower-rent name. Clinicism, as Keith would say...

Gaw said...

A cautionary tale for anyone invited to help a novelist with his research!

Back to Keith. I believe it was one of a group of Scottish names adopted by the respectable and patriotic English middle classes in a fashionable fit of enthusiasm for all things Scottish some time in the first half of the last century. I think Orwell may note the phenomenon, possibly in relation to Gordon Comstock from Keep the Aspidistra Flying. The group of names includes, as well as Keith and Gordon, Gavin and Colin.

For what it's worth.

Hey Skipper said...

What I was getting at is women are (usually) equipped to give birth, whether we choose to or not (ie that men and women are fundamentally different) - but why should this preclude us from seeking 'equality' with men - intellectually, sexually or otherwise?

Nothing.

However, equality of opportunity does not presume equality of outcome.

Susan said...

True.

Just had to have the last word..