Thursday, December 15, 2005

i enjoyed writing this. so there.

So what if it was published six years ago? I've only just read Martin Amis's memoir, Experience, so I feel perfectly entitled to write a review. Should you not want to read it, I should point out there's Clarkson and Sir Cliff at the bottom... Go on, you know you want to!

"But it's all about his bloody teeth.."

I don't remember who said this to me, on the subject of Martin Amis's Experience, but they were bang on the money. He is obsessed with his teeth, and at pains to point out that the work he had done on them was medical, not cosmetic, every time they come up.

Indeed, there's a great bit in the postcript to the book, on the subject of the press, where Amis observes, "If these pages have so far been without rancour, it is because I feel very little."

Well, "Mart", you could have fooled me. In fact, every time The Teeth come up (and believe me, they have a far more starring role in the book than either his ex-wife or current partner), an adjunct is usually added over how the press disgracefully made out that his surgery was frivolous and unnecessary. This seems to enrage him enough to give us another few pages on the subject, complete with gruesome descriptions of his bleeding gums etc. Now, I've had a fair amount of (largely unsuccessful) work done on my teeth, including fourteen extractions and the cruel imposition of traintrack braces in my first term of university, but I'll be the first to admit that it's not a greatly fascinating subject to anyone else.

Amis seems to feel that the fact that James Joyce and Vladimir Nabokov were similarly dentally challenged is somehow significant, stopping on the brink of suggesting that crap teeth equal a tendency towards becoming an experimental prose stylist.

I don't know, perhaps I'm carping. Perhaps he's justified in his complaints about the Press's obsession with his teeth rather than his pen: I have to admit that neither Amis impinged greatly on my consciousness until quite recently, and I was too busy taking exams and not pulling (aka: being a teenager) to remember any of the apparent furore that accompanied the events described in the book.

This, I began to feeling as I got further in to the book, was a bit of a drawback. Amis blithely assumes that the reader knows the salient features of his life and plays merry hell with chronology, leaping from childhood to middle age between sections, if not paragraphs. I suppose to the more savvy reader this prevented the boredom of rehashing well-known events; I, however, was left floundering as it seemed the 7-year-old Amis suddenly started having problems with his ex-wife.

None of this means I didn't enjoy reading the memoirs - far from it, they were extremely readable, and certainly illuminating on the subject of Kingsley Amis's writing. Amis junior admits he's not his father's perfect reader - claiming that is Christopher Hitchens - but his analysis of the misanthropy of Stanley and The Women in light of his father's split from Jane Howard, for example, is usefully illuminating. I've now vowed to give it another go, having got to page three, and discarded it with a distinct 'harrumph' at the last attempt.

In fact, the descriptions of KA and the analyses of his writing are so good, and his sweary, bigoted, wine-sodden presence so overwhelming, that I finished the book wishing that it was just about the father-son relationship. Amis is clearly afraid of offending the living - having, he feels, been so comprehensively screwed by biographers and journalists himself, he seems reluctant to pass anything but the most anodyne judgement on contemporaries, and even refuses to quote more than "fuck off" from Julian Barnes's friendship-ending letter to him.

With KA, on the other hand, he faces an opponent able to defend himself - Kingsley produced his own published memoirs, and also left a comprehensive account of himself in his letters, particularly to Larkin - despite, bizarrely, his death. Perhaps if Amis lives as long as his hero and mentor Saul Bellow, his contemporaries will die off before him, and we'll be able to get a brutally honest assesment of them, too.

Anyway, Experience is not the only book I've read recently, but I won't try your patience with thousands more words about random books published years ago. After Christmas, however, prepare for the deluge: it seems that all I'm getting in the way of presents is books, after foolishly drawing my family's attention to my Amazon Wishlist.


In other news: despite it having been broadcast without comment last month (!) both the Mail and Mirror today carry the story that Jeremy Clarkson gave a Nazi salute on Top Gear. Now, as you know, Clarkson is God on this blog, and therefore could probably invade Poland without drawing a rebuke from me... but I thought it worth mentioning as the Mirror headlined it "SIEG VILE" and even devoted an oped to denouncing it, noting: "FA Bosses are keen to stop fans whipping up trouble next summer by singing anti-German chants and the theme from war movie Dambusters".

Yes, you read that right. Such high-mindedness from the paper that brought us "ACHTUNG SPITFIRE" and front page photos of Gazza in a WWII helmet at the last World Cup. I could mention the Daily Mail's 1930s "HOORAY FOR THE BLACKSHIRTS" headline, but I won't.


Also causing a flicker on my total-lack-of-self-awareness-ometer today is Sir Cliff Richard. Although he might have spared us his usual Christmas warblings (or has he? am I still to encounter them?), he's constitutionally unable to keep his yap shut on the subject of Christmas Christianity.

He's spoken out in the Mail on (yawn) political correctness, yes, that curse of our society meaning we are all busy saying "Winterval" and, er, being prevented from going to carol services by lefty do-gooders worried about angering Muslims. Cliff's pearls of wisdom on the subject: "I'm saying, 'Hello, I've got friends who are Asian. I wish them Happy Diwali, they wish me Happy Christmas.' In fact they enjoy Christmas."

No! Thank god we have an ambassador for multiculturalism like you, Sir Cliff. I hope they sing along to the Millennium Prayer, too, like all true Brits should. He also offered this piece of stunning political forecasting: "As far as I'm concerned, if Jesus was Prime Minister, we'd have absolutely no problems whatsoever. If he was also Treasurer, we'd also have no trouble with money."

Sadly, he added, "But we're not realistically ever going to find people like that." Shit. Really? And I was so holding out for the Holy Ghost to be foreign secretary - bet Chirac would give us our EU rebate then.


Blogger Paul B said...

"Vee vill build a fanbelt to last a zouzand yearz!!"

To be fair, Clarkson's outburst was all only in respone to the fact that the Germans had created a car for the British market, complete with holders for teabags, sugar and cup of tea. One stereotype cancels out another I'd say, so Clarkson's still in the clear. And it was quite funny too.

12/15/2005 5:34 pm  
Blogger hangthedj said...

It doesn't take a genius to work out why The Mirror are so down on Clarkson...being a star columnist for rival paper the Sun and all that. I love it when newspapers who are as bad as onbe another try to slag each other. Forr example the Sunday Mirror, who always refer to the News of the World as "a down-market Sunday newspaper." Why I outta...

12/16/2005 12:49 pm  
Blogger galatea said...

oddly enough, though, the Mail were broadly supportive of him by the end of the article. Even had a Piers Morgan quote saying, "Hate him.. but hate PC madness more!" or something like that.

12/16/2005 1:16 pm  

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