"The writer is in a god-like relation to what he creates," Martin Amis once mused in an interview. The question that logically follows is: what kind of god is Amis? Well, he is clearly not the god of Leibniz, who could... [more]
"The writer is in a god-like relation to what he creates," Martin Amis once mused in an interview. The question that logically follows is: what kind of god is Amis? Well, he is clearly not the god of Leibniz, who could only create the "best of all possible worlds." In fact, the case could easily be made that Amis creates the worst. Spiteful characters, ubiquitous greed, terrific violence, widespread stupidity and apathy, cultural bankruptcy, suicides, murders, and mass death make up Amis' literary world. He has little inclination to adorn his creations with the light of hope and optimism. Instead, he spatters them with humor, irony, and a seemingly limitless wit. But Amis' form of humor is about as black and as bleak as it gets.
The lowest of the low is what Amis likes, or at least what he likes to write about. His characters are often bitter to the core, shamelessly envious and malicious, driven by the darkest imaginable desires. Of course, the occasional "good" person comes into Amis' novels'”but such characters are often more repulsive for their stupidity than his evil characters are for their malice. And, in general, the good are not well rewarded; to the contrary, they suffer the most. Yes, Amis would appear to be a sadistic author; he clearly enjoys inflicting pain and even death. Such is the nature of his godhead.
Of course, Amis is well aware of what he's doing as an author. Like most Postmodern writers, his writing is about the act of writing; relentlessly self-reflective, it always contemplates its own possibility and foregrounds its own devices. Midway through his first novel, "The Rachel Papers," a character named Martin Amis enters the narrative. And in "London Fields," the narrator is a writer who happens to be writing the story on the page. Amis incessantly lets his readers know that the world they're in is a fictional world, and that fiction doesn't merely represent reality, but produces it.
What's more, fiction controls it. Amis is obsessed with the power he wields over his characters. Perhaps this why he puts so many of them to death: in "The Rachel Papers," the narrator hacks his girlfriend to pieces; "Money" results in a double suicide; "London Fields" has death inscribed from the very beginning; and "Time's Arrow" takes us to the mass killings of the Holocaust. It may be frightful to control the fates of so many, but Amis is honest about it. His authorial control is made painfully explicit.
Pain is the quality at the heart of Amis' work. He calls himself a "comic writer interested in painful matters," and there can be no doubting his accuracy. Indeed, Amis pushes black humor to the point where it borders the unfunny. Reading prose that is as relentlessly acerbic and bitter as his is a little like taking tin foil between your teeth: you laugh, but you can't help but cringe.