Martin Amis: The Biography (Richard Bradford)

A review I published for We Love This Book – originally published here on 9th November, 2011.

If you’ve read Martin Amis’ novels, then the density of this critical biography won’t be lost on you.

Amis’ life is structured like most of his works, crammed with excess and disinterest (à la Money), before giving way to post-modern despair and far-reaching instability (see London Fields).

To pose the question of whether Amis is a great writer, as Richard Bradford builds up to (in a chapter entitled unimaginatively ‘Significance: Is He a Great Writer?’), is unfair: Amis’ greatness is neither inherited nor a formula to be tested against winners of the Man Booker Prize.

Investigating pornography under the alias Bruno Holbrook before taking a salaried correspondent post at the New Statesman in the 1970s, Amis was allied with Francis Wheen to document the turbulence of the late 20th century.  It is no wonder that this Gatsby-esque figure is so outspoken and well-informed in his writings on global politics.

His father’s close relationship with Philip Larkin is leant on heavily – perhaps owing to the fact that Bradford has also written acclaimed biographies on both Kingsley Amis and Larkin. Yet Amis’ five lengthy interviews with Bradford form ‘a cabinet of contrasts’ that reflect the polarised opinions of him by the public and the press.

Loved by women and a dedicated family man, aloof and modest all at once, these seemingly incongruous qualities build a fascinating portrait of a man as well as an author, forming a biography cementing itself as a key manual to Martin Amis’ literary canon.

Thu, 03/11/2011