Indifferently written bio of “the best prose stylist in English…in the closing decades of the last and the opening of this century.”
Martin Amis is, of course, the famed one-time bad boy of British letters, son of Kingsley, the leader of the sort-of school of British writers numbering the likes of Ian Hamilton, Salman Rushdie, Julian Barnes, Clive James and Christopher Hitchens—not a woman in the lot and for reasons that a survivor of the 1970s will probably understand. (Men did not become enlightened until later, if then.) Bradford (English/Univ. of Ulster; Poetry: The Ultimate Guide, 2010, etc.) does a yeomanlike job of wrestling this Amis to the ground, and though an academic, he is sensible enough to realize that readers will want not just the 411 on the making of, say, Dead Babies and London Fields, but the really juicy stuff: the famous (or infamous) split with his former literary agent for an American counterpart dubbed “the Jackal,” his contemporaneous exchange of a long-suffering wife for a younger and more exotic one, his expensive dental work, etc.—in short, all the gossipy items that Amis may, regrettably, be better known for than for his actual work. Bradford’s book comes alive when he shifts from life to that work, as when he writes that Amis’ middle-period novels are “exceptional partly because of their intransigent refusal to conform to the predominant tenor of his own fiction or to discernible precedents elsewhere.” The biographical material, on the other hand, is humdrum, rendered in a commaless and sometimes breathless British English that isn’t always revealing.
Just serviceable. Readers interested in all things Amis will want to refer to the roman à clef The Information and anxiously await an autobiography.