The War Against Cliché

Martin Amis

Read December 2005

Martin Amis is not an acquired taste. You either fall in with his knowing, superior tone, willing to be tied to a mast and whipped around at his pleasure, or you take your custom elsewhere. Amis is a masochistic pleasure, and all the more so when he tries his hand at criticism.

It is difficult to summarize these essays, nor even worth it. One is not surprised to see Ulysees or Nabokov here, but one is pleasantly startled to see him take on everything from Ballard's Crash and Wodehouse to Jurassic Park and soccer. (He is, incidentally, sound on the matter of Wodehouse.)

Amis has grown up a good deal: these essays cover thirty years, and the differences are plain to the eye. It is his middle period, however, more than his youth, that is most embarassing. When, in his youth, he sleekly dissects the Guiness Book of Records, one sees the Angry Young Man still full of venom; his recent work reveals the learning of age (though he still can't resist the occasional skewering, as of Crichton as Author). His 1980s essays, however, are not only dated but often silly, filled with a nuclear terror that seemed to supress his inner writer. Indeed, where the back cover asks whether there is anything Amis cannot write about, the essays themselves answer that question in the affirmative.