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LOS ANGELES — People love to hate Martin Amis.
Particularly people in England. It’s been five years since Amis published a novel, and you’d think, from the furor that his latest effort, “Yellow Dog,” created in London, that the city’s literary types had devoted themselves to nothing during his absence but sharpening their respective critical knives and thinking up new and improved ways to curse his name. In his review of “Yellow Dog” (Miramax Books), British novelist Tibor Fischer hated the book so much that he described reading it as like “finding your favorite uncle being caught in a school playground, masturbating.” Peter Kemp of the Sunday Times described Amis as “a talent on its last legs.”
This story first appeared in the October 21, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Of course, dire predictions have been cast upon Amis before. Indeed, every novel he’s published since the critically revered “Money” in 1984 has inspired its share of venom and bile — as has Amis’ lifestyle in general. He’s been bashed for fixing his Austin Powers-esque teeth, for marrying twice and for receiving a $1.25 million advance for “The Information” (a heavily autobiographical novel about his feud with a character based on novelist Julian Barnes). Never before, however, has Amis’ work itself come under such scathing attack.
Then again, Amis has never written a book quite like “Yellow Dog.” A disturbing state-of-the-nation farce that explores the connections between sex, violence, gender and the media, “Yellow Dog” was inspired, Amis says, by an interest in “the recent loss of shame in Western society” and by his belief that “men have lost a lot of power in recent times, and women have gained a lot, and you don’t give up power without some dizzying effect.”
Sitting at the Wyndham Bel Age Hotel in Los Angeles, Amis, 54, delivers these words without heat. His tone is calm and scientific — matter-of-fact in a friendly sort of way. The implications of his writing, however, are serious indeed. “I think men and women are living a slight political fiction right now,” he says, “in the sense that we’ve announced that there’s equality, but men have been in power for five million years, and you can’t pretend that the past has no weight.”
“Yellow Dog” delves into the repercussions of such seismic shifts via a cast of characters that includes a slimy hack named Clint Smoker; Xan Meo, a liberal actor-writer and “dream husband” who is transformed into a leering, oversexed, chauvinistic beast after he is whacked on the head during a fight; and the King of England, Henry IX, whose daughter (the future queen) has been the victim of a filmed “intrusion” that the tabloid-reading public can’t get enough of. “We are at the end of morality in this era,” says Amis, who started writing the novel six years ago, only to put it aside for his memoir, “Experience,” and a book about Stalin and his Western apologists, “Koba the Dread.”
“The fact that pornography is mainstream means that masturbating is mainstream,” he continues. “All these intimate moments are up for public consumption, and that baffles and repels me, and I found that the only way I could digest it and reach a conclusion about it was in a novel.”
Regardless of how the novel is received, however, Amis believes he has done his job well.
“I think the real duty of a novelist is to interpret how the world feels at a particular point,” he grins. “And that’s what I’ve done here.”