Thing is: he reads. A lot. He reads in the swollen cumulus of his weathered sheets, and in the echoey skull of his office. He even reads outside, in the gaze of those who no longer read. He reads on the subway, thumbing greasy pages in counterpoint with the hum and throb of a hundred muted earslugs and headbuns. He even reads in nature, on the sizzling griddle of beaches and in the shit-strewn parks.
Why does he do it? Escape, of course. We all know about escape because we all know imprisonment. We all know imprisonment because we all know childhood. We might not all be old, but we were all young once, stuck in our sharkcage of wallpaper, our ribcage of plushy toys.
And what does he read? Today, today he reads The Pregnant Widow. What's it like? It's like ... it's like (and where do you go from here? You go to metaphor of course, because metaphor is how we talk when we talk about the things we read. Right?) The Metaphor: Picture yourself at the bar with Slosh, your girl. And picture Slosh. She's painterly in certain light. This light for instance, the bent, brandy-colored light of this bar, The Ruddery Oar. And her parts--yes, she's got the parts--these parts are in the right place. But then--but then, another girl spiders by, you know the type, the type that turn normal blokes like yourself into rubber on legs, into 5'6" of drool. So suddenly, Slosh, who you're with, doesn't look so good. She looks like Slosh, all pocked skin and squidgy features and human frailty. She looks like you.
And that's what it's like, reading The Pregnant Widow by MA, when there are a million plus pages of youth in Italy, youth by the coppery pool, youth in the scooter-torn town, youth in the tangled bed, and Keith, the hero of all this youth, keeps going on about Jane Austen, and what Emma did on Box Hill and what Mr. Bennett said about Elizabeth, and suddenly there's all this comparison. As in: why am I reading this book, and not a better one. For example, why am I not reading a book by Jane Austen.
(I wrote this indulgent parody a few days ago, halfway through the book. I've now finished it, and it ended better than it started. A lot better. The long coda of the book, in which the narrator/hero (clearly an autobiographical stand-in for MA) recounts the progression of years is very good, some of the most interesting, and certainly some of the most emotional writing that Amis has done. I wouldn't recommend this book to others (I don't normally recommend any Martin Amis book to others--he's definitely not for everyone) but it's the most I've enjoyed his fiction writing in years.)