Almost Amis

While Ms. Egan, Mr. Andersen and Ms. Kine were not alone in their enthusiasm for Mr. Amis’ imminent relocation, some writers who call the borough home, concerned that the short man might cast too long a shadow, were less than welcoming.

“It will cause Brooklyn writers anxiety,” said David Gargill, a journalist who recently decamped from Henry Street for Hudson, N.Y. “they believe that his oeuvre has taken literary possession of London and they’ll doubtlessly consider his arrival on the shores of Kings County an invasion of their terrain, both real and imagined.”

“We’ve got, like, three Jonathans here,” the journalist Daniel Radosh wrote The Observer. “We don’t need any fucking Martins.”

Attempts by The Observer to contact novelists Jonathan Safran Foer and the novelist Jonathan Ames went unanswered. Jonathan Lethem, the author of Motherless Brooklyn who now lives in Southern California and teaches at Pomona, declined to comment.

Paul Auster was in transit to Europe.

I was, however, able to reach Mr. Amis. Speaking by telephone from London, he confirmed that he and his family will be moving to Cobble Hill.

“We’ll be keeping a flat in London,” said Mr. Amis, “but we’ll be based there and our daughters will be going to school there.”

I was unclear, especially given the vividness of Money, how much time Mr. Amis had spent living Stateside.

“I lived in Princeton for a year when I was 9, 10 years old, and I’ve spent chunks of time in New York, but not longer than a few months here and there.”

And what attracted him to Cobble Hill?

“I’ve only been there a few times,” he said, “and it’s my wife who makes these decisions. But it looks Arcadian. Much quieter and calmer than where we live in London and of course much calmer and quieter than Manhattan.”

I asked how familiar he was with Brooklyn’s literary culture.

“I hear there are lots of novelists called Jonathan who live in Brooklyn,” he said. “And Paul Auster is a friend of ours and Siri [Hustvedt, Mr. Auster's wife]. So we already know two.” Mr. Amis said there were “several” novelists he’d never met whose books he admired. “I don’t want to name names. That’s invidious.”

I mentioned a talk I’d been pointed to by Mr. Hitchens in which Mr. Amis spoke of his project of becoming an American writer. Was this move part of that project?

“It wasn’t a wholly serious remark. I’ve always felt I was a kind of Mid-Atlantic novelist. You know when I started out, the English novel was about the ups and downs of the middle classes. It was before the great infusion from India–when the empire struck back so rewardingly for the English novel, the British novel. So I’ve always had more of an eye on the American way of going at a novel, with quite a lot of size and space and trying to write about the highs and lows of society rather than just the middle strata.”

The next subject was tricky. An interview recently appeared in the French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur and made headlines when it was reported on by the London press. The Guardian declared, “Martin Amis bemoans England’s ‘moral decrepitude': Novelist despairs of country with ‘philistine’ royal family where ‘celebrity is the new religion’ and ‘all is rotten inside.'” Further, the paper reported, “The novel Amis is currently working on, State of England, will, he believes, ‘be considered as the final insult’ to his country.”

“I started it long before we decided to move to New York,” Mr. Amis told me, “and it was just, you know, my next novel. There’s no particular timing about that. It’s satirical, as most of my novels are. That interview with the French papers being horribly garbled and translated into French and then out again with all sorts of misrepresentations–it says I wish I weren’t English. What a fatuous remark that would be for anyone to make anywhere all over the world, to say I wish I weren’t what you are.

“And of course I’m English, and although it’s not quite right to be proud of an accident of birth, I think any consideration of British history and British literature would put it very high on any list of homelands. I love the English people. I think they’re wonderfully tolerant and ironic and cheerful, despite what is said about them. I’ve lived in England for 50 years. I haven’t just come and looked at the place and not liked it. I am English, inescapably and happily English.”

But there’s no contradiction between being English, or Kansan for that matter, and becoming a New Yorker.

“I don’t know if I ever will become a New Yorker in that sense,” Mr. Amis said. “I’m very much looking forward to a change in scene.”

With that Mr. Amis was out of time.

Comments

  1. Amusing take on Martin Amis. Living in London I can tell you his rep is pretty much shot here (not that he’s been usurped – I would say the throne of Greatest Living British novelist is vacant) and his output is pretty much reduced to novellas published as novels via large type and wide spacing. He seems very happy – trouble is, to apply the Montherlant quote Amis himself has dropped more than once, ‘Happiness writes white.’

    Of his novels, must reads are Money (1984), London Fields (1989) and ‘The Information’ (1995) – IMO the rest you can leave. I think his memoir ‘Experience’ is great, as is the collection of criticism ‘The War Against Cliche’.

    I think you’ll find the Dean Street mentioned in ‘Money’ is a reference to the one in Soho, London.
    Not that Mr Amis will read this but if he does, Hey, you’re almost 62, ditch the short leather jacket! And while you’re at it, you can tell your old mucker Clive James to take the one he’s way too fond of sporting to the nearest clothes bank.