A MAN WORTH LIS­TEN­ING TO

The leg­endary man of let­ters still has a few scores to set­tle BY ERIC MUTRIE • IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY CHLOE CUSHMAN

Sharp - - CONTENTS -

Martin Amis, the orig­i­nal mas­ter of the hot take, re­flects on Trump and Meghan Markle.

FOR OVER FOUR DECADES, WRITER MARTIN AMIS HAS BEEN A reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to pub­li­ca­tions like The New Yorker, Esquire, and The

Ob­server, chron­i­cling the worlds of pol­i­tics, lit­er­a­ture, and en­ter­tain­ment in finely crafted prose. While his nov­els The Rachel Pa­pers, Money, and Lon­don Fields es­tab­lished him as Bri­tish lit­er­ary roy­alty (suc­ceed­ing his fa­ther, Sir Kings­ley), it is his es­says — ad­dress­ing sub­jects as di­verse as ac­tual Bri­tish roy­alty and the Mal­ibu porn in­dus­try — that best show­case Amis’s wit and in­tel­lect.

The Rub of Time, a new book col­lect­ing 45 ar­ti­cles writ­ten be­tween 1994 and 2017, cov­ers the writer’s on­go­ing lit­er­ary ob­ses­sions — his idols, Vladimir Nabokov and Saul Bel­low — as well as the failed sec­ond act of John Tra­volta. It also of­fers no short­age of com­men­tary on present-day pol­i­tics; af­ter re­lo­cat­ing to New York in 2011, Amis ar­rived in Amer­ica just in time to study Don­ald Trump’s po­lit­i­cal as­cen­sion. There is some­thing glee­fully fun about such a tal­ented, il­lus­tri­ous au­thor doc­u­ment­ing his close read of Trump’s poorly writ­ten opus,

Crip­pled Amer­ica. Not sur­pris­ingly, Amis proves just as funny and in­sight­ful in con­ver­sa­tion as he does in writ­ing. One of the pieces in this col­lec­tion re­flects on book tours. In it, you write that you’ve felt “robot­i­cally gar­ru­lous” while hav­ing to an­swer ques­tions in city af­ter city. Are you at that point yet? I’m bet­ter now. It’s part of the pro­fes­sional dis­ci­pline. And it’s ex­cit­ing go­ing to ex­otic places on air­planes. What’s no fun at all is do­ing in­ter­views with other coun­tries and the in­ter­viewer can’t speak English. You find your­self sim­pli­fy­ing your an­swers to eighth grade English. Speak­ing of youth — this book is ded­i­cated to your grand­chil­dren, Isaac and Eleanor. In one es­say, you talk about the name Tim not typ­i­cally po­si­tion­ing one for great­ness. How did you go about se­lect­ing your own kids’ names? Clio, my youngest daugh­ter, was named for the muse of his­tory. My first son, Louis, has my mid­dle name, and that’s the most tra­di­tional I’ve ever got­ten. With your first child, you spend months try­ing out names — it be­comes a sort of tor­ment. My first wife and I at one point agreed that we were go­ing to say “To hell with it” and call the child Toi­let. You don’t pay as much at­ten­tion with your sub­se­quent chil­dren. Be­cause of that, your first child ends up clever and neu­rotic — I’ve gath­ered that’s the sort of pat­tern. The sec­ond is more schol­ared and more in con­trol. How has fa­ther­hood been dif­fer­ent than you'd ex­pected? I’m more and more con­vinced that, apart from choos­ing your spouse, pro­duc­ing chil­dren is the best thing you ever do. I felt quite broody when I was in my early thir­ties. That sur­prised me. I thought only women felt broody, but you do want a fresh face around the house. And it goes on be­ing tremen­dously in­ter­est­ing — as long as you have half­way-nor­mal ones, as mine all are. I shud­der to think what life would be with­out them. Of course, it’s the least cool thing pos­si­ble to be a grand­par­ent, but you get over that. I just wish I saw more of my grand­chil­dren, who are in Lon­don.

“I felt quite broody in my thir­ties. I thought only women felt broody, but you do want a fresh face around the house.”

You write in one es­say that, when you moved to New York, what struck you was “the astro­nom­i­cal mass of Amer­ica.” What else added to your cul­ture shock? My sec­ond wife is a New Yorker, but had lived nearly 30 years in Lon­don. So when we moved here, we dis­cov­ered it all to­gether. I thought that I was used to Amer­ica from vis­it­ing, and was a bilin­gual English-slash-amer­i­can. But there are things about it that com­pletely in­fu­ri­ate me now. I al­ways knew that there were tremen­dous weak­nesses in Amer­i­can poli­cies. But there are so many ex­ploded sys­tems — Amer­i­can health care, Amer­i­can bu­reau­cracy, Amer­i­can guns, Amer­i­can racism — that they cling to so des­per­ately. What do you miss most about Eng­land? The peo­ple. I think Amer­i­cans and Bri­tish peo­ple are equally friendly and gen­er­ous, but I’d say English peo­ple are more tol­er­ant in the end. And English peo­ple are so much wit­tier than Amer­i­cans. I don’t mean clever nov­el­ists, ei­ther — just the peo­ple you have in­ter­ac­tions with a dozen times a day in the deli or at the dry cleaner’s. What sur­prised you more — Brexit or Trump? Trump. No one in Eng­land did their “Fuck you” vote know­ing what Brexit would look like or be like. If Brexit had al­ready re­vealed it­self and shown that it had or­ange skin and yel­low hair and couldn’t com­plete a sim­ple declar­a­tive sen­tence, then I don’t think they would have voted for it. Amer­i­cans saw what they were get­ting and in­stead of want­ing less, they wanted more. It’s a much more mys­te­ri­ous and id­i­otic choice. What did they ex­pect? In your anal­y­sis of the Repub­li­can Party writ­ten back in 2016, af­ter read­ing Trump’s first and lat­est books back to back, you noted that an “atro­cious” cog­ni­tive de­cline had oc­curred be­tween the two. What goes through your head as you lis­ten to Trump's speeches now? It’s painful and hi­lar­i­ous. He talks like a 14-year-old — so touchy and clod­ding and trans­par­ent and in­se­cure and pa­thetic. It makes me shake my head and de­spair Amer­i­can com­mon sense. Com­mon sense and hu­mour are very closely aligned. Trump, de­spite his quips, is an in­cred­i­bly hu­mour­less man and, hand in hand with that, he has no com­mon sense ei­ther. And he is get­ting worse. If you watch his ap­pear­ance on Char­lie Rose 25 years ago, there was an irony and a twin­kle of in­tel­li­gence that has com­pletely van­ished now. Power and money cor­rupt, yes, but we mustn’t for­get that be­ing cor­rupt cor­rupts you. That phrase — “power cor­rupts” — comes up in three of your pieces in this book: one about Trump, an­other, Princess Diana, and the third, Khome­ini. How con­scious of this ex­pres­sion were you as you rose to power in the lit­er­ary world? My friend John Banville won some huge, very lu­cra­tive prize in Ire­land, and he was then up for the Booker prize after­wards and didn’t win it. I asked him what the dif­fer­ence was, and he said, “The Ir­ish prize is just money, but the Booker prize is power.” I haven’t won a lit­er­ary prize in Eng­land since my first novel. Still, I saw very early on that I was com­pletely vul­ner­a­ble to the cor­rup­tion of power. When I was lit­er­ary edi­tor of the New States­man, I was 26 — very young for that po­si­tion — and I had a sec­re­tary. That com­pletely went to my head. I did feel as though I was mas­ter of the uni­verse. My friends and my fam­ily said af­ter a cou­ple of weeks, “Per­haps you shouldn’t have a sec­re­tary.” I had gone in­sane, is the ex­pla­na­tion. I was ter­ri­bly grand and snooty. It didn’t last — you get used to it and it wears off. Re­act­ing to the Times’ 2016 in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Trump’s treat­ment of women, you wrote that “every rea­son­ably en­er­getic baby boomer…be­haved far more de­plorably” than he had. Read­ing that now, it felt like a fore­shad­ow­ing of #Metoo rev­e­la­tions about Har­vey We­in­stein and oth­ers. Did that cov­er­age make you re­flect on your own past be­hav­iour? I had a poet friend who said “They’ll be com­ing for you next,” and I said with­out any anx­i­ety, “No they won’t, ac­tu­ally.” I did a ter­ror-stricken re­view, and there are one or two things I could re­proach my­self for. I was maybe a bit pushy in my twen­ties. But ab­so­lutely no co­er­cion, and no promis­ing of ca­reer help. If you like women a lot and spend time with them, then you think about their feel­ings. Hav­ing writ­ten about Princess Diana, how have you seen the role of a royal celebrity evolve from then to this era of Meghan Markle? I love Meghan Markle. The way her and Harry look at each other, it looks like the real thing. But two points about celebrity. One is that it has be­come like a cult. Joseph Con­rad said that a ter­ror­ist is mo­ti­vated by want­ing to make a huge im­pres­sion. But they’re not go­ing to do it the hard way — they know they’re not go­ing to be­come an im­mor­tal name by be­com­ing a town plan­ner in Cairo. The other side, that comes in with the Royal fam­ily, is that it’s be­come a form of child abuse to con­tinue the royal tra­di­tion. Fa­mous ba­bies. If there’s not some­thing man­i­festly ridicu­lous about that, what is ridicu­lous? What’s one’s achieve­ment as a three-year-old? You say in an­other es­say that writ­ers die a dou­ble death — “once when the body dies, and once when the tal­ent dies.” How has your aware­ness of that im­pacted your writ­ing? It’s a slow process. And there are mag­nif­i­cent ex­cep­tions — writ­ers who’ve pro­duced their best work in their eight­ies. My step­mother, El­iz­a­beth Jane Howard, is one of those. But it’s much more re­al­is­tic to ex­pect that there’s go­ing to be a grad­ual loss of orig­i­nal­ity — which is the same thing as tal­ent, re­ally. I feel I’m com­pen­sat­ing for it every time I reach for the dic­tio­nary when I write now. I’m very de­pen­dent on it. And I can’t work for as long as I used to. Four or five hours is down to three hours be­ing con­sid­ered pretty il­lus­tri­ous. Then again, that’s all Trol­lope did, and he wrote 40 nov­els — most of them huge.

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