Wednesday, May 12, 2010
In honor of Martin Amis releasing his new book, The Pregnant Widow, yesterday, I thought I'd put together a top ten list of my favorite Amis books, both by father Kingsley and son Martin.
Lucky Jim by KA
It’s hard to imagine that this story of an unhappy first-year professor in Postwar England was considered shocking in its day, but it was. Authority-snubbing and youthful dissatisfaction has come a long way since 1955, but it has never been rendered as cleverly as in Kingsley Amis’ first novel. This is the only book that I can honestly say is “laugh out loud” funny. Not the deepest of Amis’ novels but the most pleasurable by a long shot, and the book I've read more times than any other.
Money by MA
Martin Amis pulled out all the stops for this, his fifth novel, a blistering, crackling satire of film financing in early eighties New York City. The main character, John Self, is both Amis’ most grotesque and funniest creation, and Amis’ writing is never better. It’s a long book that bulges with style. There is hardly a dull sentence in the whole thing.
The Old Devils by KA
A late masterpiece by the elder Amis. A group of aging friends in Wales drink and talk, then drink and talk some more, and without drawing attention to it, Amis touches on all the big themes of existence. Love, friendship, fear, mortality. His most touching novel.
Experience by MA
A brilliant memoir by Martin that focuses primarily on his relationship with his father, while wandering into other equally fascinating subjects, including an abducted cousin, and Martin’s teeth.
Everyday Drinking by KA
A collection of KA’s newspaper columns on the subject of drink. As KA said, he didn’t agree to the column in order to have an excuse to drink more, he arranged for the column in order to recoup some cash for all the hours he spent studying the subject.
The Green Man by KA
A ghost story in which the adulterous, alcoholic proprietor of an inn begins to believe that the rumored ghost he uses to lure in customers might actually be for real. What makes this so entertaining is the unreliability of the narrator. Is it a haunting or is it the whiskey?
London Fields by MA
Another sprawling black comedy of urban sins. This one has MA’s second greatest creation after Money’s John Self, a low-level criminal named Keith Talent.
The Life of Kingsley Amis by Zachary Leader
A beautifully written, warts-and-all biography of KA. He was a man of enormous appetites and enormous contradictions. A misanthrope that couldn’t stand to be alone. A drunkard with incredible work ethic. A misogynist in the constant company of women.
The Rachel Papers by MA
This was Martin Amis’s first novel, a slim funny coming-of-age tale about a precocious teen. Not as ambitious as his later works, and that might be a good thing.
Collected Poetry by Philip Larkin
Not an Amis, of course, but Philip Larkin, a close friend of KA’s since Oxford, is the dedicatee of Lucky Jim and the Godfather of Philip. He also wrote a lovely poem for Sally Amis, the tragically short-lived sister of Martin, called “Born Yesterday.” Like nearly every other poem he wrote, it’s a keeper.