NEW YORK — Martin Amis claims he’s a real softie.
It’s a surprising admission from a man who’s renowned for his caustically witty novels, tough guy demeanor and strong opinions on everything from critics to politics. But he says he even cries at the movies.
“It’s just too much for me. I am very easily moved to tears,” Amis says. “I’m quite soft, really. Everyone thinks I’m a snob and snooty and rude. I’m not. I’m very polite, particularly to people at your mercy, like servants and waiters.”
And readers. While Amis doesn’t refrain from voicing his disdain for critics (“I notice the value of something or if it gets good reviews. But they’re never right….They never tell you what’s wrong with it”), he gets almost gushy when discussing his fans. “You want to be aware of criticism, yeah,” he says, sitting in the Royalton Hotel, where he politely asks for the music to be turned down because it annoys him. “But getting readers’ reactions is like a footballer cheering on a one-man team. It’s not quite what they say, it’s the injections of warmth you get from readers. It’s like a little infusion of love.”
That fan worship has been flowing lately as Amis tours the U.S. to talk about his 21st novel, “House of Meetings” (Knopf), a harrowing depiction of the Russian gulag told in the voice of one of two brothers smitten with the same Jewish girl.
Surprisingly, Amis has never visited Russia, but has been fascinated with it ever since he read Dostoevsky at the age of 17. “Russia is a tragedy. I’ve never been and didn’t want to once I started…,” he explains. “I hope it’s not just about Russia. The Russian curse is still going on and has been going on for centuries.”
As the son of Kingsley Amis, the writer is well-versed in family dynamics. “It makes a difference how you are received,” he says of his famous parentage. “The way it goes is, people are very nice at first and then you pay for it later. Part of it is children of writers write one or two things and then they shut up. It’s a bit galling if they go on, as I have done.”
This story first appeared in the March 12, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Not that the process gets any easier. Completing his 21st book proved to be a test of his abilities and confidence. The last month was tough going and a Mexican getaway revived his spirits enough that he could motor through. “You come in every day and it’s dead. You can’t get it going and your subconscious is not helping you,” Amis says. “I’d lost faith in myself to the extent that I ceased to think of myself as a writer.”
But he continues toiling at his craft. Amis has been known to celebrate the completion of one novel by starting a new project almost the next day and, indeed, his next book, “The Pregnant Wife,” is well under way. But at 57, he is more inclined to steal away to Paris with his wife, play with his two young children and find a little time for tennis and snooker. Sometimes, working days resemble nonworking ones.
“The challenge is to convince your wife you are working even when you are playing pool or down at the pub with your friends,” he says. “But half of writing is subconscious.”