Daily Mail

What a scan­dalous plot twist

In his new book, Martin Amis hints his fa­ther wasn’t the lit­er­ary gi­ant Kings­ley but the poet Philip Larkin ...the lat­est chap­ter in a whole saga of bed-hop­ping

- by Richard Kay

THE ar­rival of a new Martin Amis novel is never a hum­drum af­fair. Even when this month he is one of al­most 600 au­thors strug­gling to be heard — and read — in a post-Covid glut of new books, there will al­ways be some teas­ing rev­e­la­tion to make the writer, a diminu­tive 5 ft 4 in tall, stand out in a very con­gested crowd.

Over the years, he has reg­u­larly used his own life and the peo­ple in it as a back­drop to his sto­ry­telling. But the bal­ly­hoo for In­side Story, to be pub­lished on Septem­ber 24, takes that con­cept a mis­chievous step fur­ther by rais­ing ques­tions about his own pa­ter­nity.

In the book, de­scribed by its pub­lisher, Jonathan Cape, as an au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal novel, one char­ac­ter sug­gests that the larger-thanlife Sir Kings­ley Amis may not, after all, have been Martin’s bi­o­log­i­cal fa­ther. In­stead, the story sug­gests, it might be Kings­ley’s fel­low writer, the poet Philip Larkin.

The two men, who met at Ox­ford, were great friends. In­deed, Larkin even wrote a poem, Born Yes­ter­day, for Sally, the youngest of Kings­ley’s three chil­dren, when she was born two days after the pub­li­ca­tion of Lucky Jim — Kings­ley’s first novel, which brought him overnight suc­cess in 1954. Martin’s older brother, Philip, was even named after Larkin.

Both Amis se­nior and Larkin are, of course, dead, as is Martin’s mother Hi­lary, known as Hilly, who dur­ing her mar­riage was treated ap­pallingly by her se­rial adul­terer of a hus­band.

How tan­ta­lis­ing, then, that the put-upon Hilly might also have bro­ken her mat­ri­mo­nial vows.

She died in 2010, Kings­ley in 1995 and Larkin in 1985.

Amis ju­nior is now 71 and only two years short of the age at which his fa­ther died. Such land­marks can be a chal­lenge for any son, let alone one bur­dened by the knowl­edge that, how­ever great a writer he might be — and Amis doesn’t suf­fer from mod­esty about his work — he has yet to record the global suc­cess en­joyed by his fa­ther.

So has Amis let a very un­likely cat out of the bag or is he, as one re­viewer sug­gested, ‘play­ing games with the reader’?

For the book presents the in­trigu­ing pos­si­bil­ity that, in­stead of the worldly Sir Kings­ley — whose rest­less li­bido was al­ways said to have been passed on to his second son — Martin is the off­spring of the reclu­sive and stam­mer­ing Larkin.

In a pas­sage in In­side Story, one of Martin’s girl­friends, the ‘al­lur­ingly amoral’ Phoebe Phelps — un­der­stood to be a com­pos­ite of past loves — tells Amis that his fa­ther made sex­ual ad­vances to­wards her and then said: ‘Do you think I’d be talk­ing to you like this if I were Martin’s fa­ther?’

According to the novel, Hilly, Martin’s mother, who ‘ad­mired and re­spected’ Larkin, once woke up and said she dreamt he had been kiss­ing her, and that the poet had sent her a ‘flir­ta­tious, even sala­cious’ let­ter.

Later on, Martin dis­misses the no­tion, not­ing the sim­i­lar­i­ties in ap­pear­ance be­tween a youth­ful pho­to­graph of Kings­ley and one of his own sons, Louis.

Quite where fact ends and fic­tion be­gins in a book de­scribed as Amis’s ‘most in­ti­mate and epic work to date’ is open to con­jec­ture. Char­ac­ters, some well-known, oth­ers less so, flit across the page, from Amis’s lit­er­ary hero Saul Bel­low to the writ­ers Iris Mur­doch and El­iz­a­beth Jane Howard — for whom Kings­ley aban­doned his mar­riage — and his friend the late es­say­ist Christo­pher Hitchens.

No fa­ther- and- son duo in modern lit­er­a­ture have en­joyed such colour­ful lives as Kings­ley and Martin Amis. Both left their wives and young chil­dren for other women.

Martin was 14 when his fa­ther walked out on Hilly, who mar­ried twice more — dis­as­trously to Cam­bridge clas­sics don D. R. Shack­le­ton Bai­ley, then hap­pily to Alas­tair Boyd, an­other writer and the 7th Lord Kil­marnock.

‘It’s ap­palling. I wouldn’t rec­om­mend be­ing de­serted like that to any­one,’ Hilly said a few years be­fore her death. ‘Martin was not quite in his teens when the whole hor­ri­ble thing hap­pened, and it had a huge im­pact on him.’

The im­pact was so great that his stud­ies at a Brighton board­ing school suf­fered. He also made a teenage vow that he would never leave his wife when he grew up. But he did.

‘You would have thought that, hav­ing seen what it did to us, it wouldn’t hap­pen to him,’ said Hilly, who met Kings­ley in 1946 at Ox­ford, where she was study­ing draw­ing at the Ruskin School of Art. ‘But there you go, that’s Martin.’ AMIS

was the fa­ther of two sons — now aged 35 and 34 — when he walked out on his first wife, the Amer­i­can philoso­pher An­to­nia Phillips, for her best friend, Amer­i­can-Uruguayan writer and heiress Is­abel Fon­seca. They mar­ried in 1996 and have two daugh­ters, now both in their 20s.

Martin later ex­pressed guilt about leav­ing his wife and sons. In his 2000 me­moir, Ex­pe­ri­ence, he de­scribed admitting to his fa­ther how the episode left him ‘phys­i­cally ter­ri­ble, be­mused, sub­nor­malised, CLIVE Pic­ture: stu­pe­fied and al­ways about to flinch or trem­ble from the ef­fort of mak­ing my face look hon­est, kind, sane’.

He added: ‘ Only to him could I talk about what I was do­ing to my chil­dren. Be­cause he had done it to me.’

But while Kings­ley’s second mar­riage was bad — he and El­iz­a­beth Jane Howard were di­vorced in 1983 — his son’s do­mes­tic switch has been a suc­cess and, de­spite his tor­ment, blessed with con­tent­ment.

Kings­ley had a rep­u­ta­tion for bed­ding which­ever girl hap­pened to be avail­able and then writ­ing jolly let­ters to Philip Larkin about his ex­pe­ri­ences.

In ad­mi­ra­tion, Martin de­scribed his fa­ther as a ‘ heroic adul­terer’. Was it Amis blood or Larkin blood that coarsed through the young Martin, who also en­joyed his rep­u­ta­tion as a lothario?

This was all the more re­mark­able be­cause, as a teenager, he considered him­self ‘short-ar­sed’ and pro­foundly unattrac­tive.

Some years ago, that fear of phys­i­cal in­ad­e­quacy came back to haunt him when one of his for­mer lovers, jour­nal­ist Julie Ka­vanagh, wrote a sav­agely bit­ing por­trait of him in a me­moir for a mag­a­zine.

She de­scribed him as ‘small, very small and sweetly af­fec­tion­ate, even sen­ti­men­tal . . . ’

They met in 1974 when she was pro­fil­ing ‘ Lon­don’s new­est novelist’, cel­e­brated for his first book, The Rachel Pa­pers. SHE

was smit­ten at first and wrote of the novelist’s ‘ Jag­ger lips, moody mono­brow and fag be­tween two fin­gers, ex­actly fit­ting the im­age I’d formed of a coldly al­lur­ing Martin Amis.’

The af­fair ended when she dis­cov­ered he was see­ing her close friend Emma Soames, the jour­nal­ist grand­daugh­ter of Sir Win­ston Churchill. The re­la­tion­ship had al­ready been tested when he be­gan an af­fair with the artist Lamorna Heath, wife of news­pa­per writer and Middle East ex­pert Pa­trick Seale, a friend when Amis had been a col­league at The Ob­server.

Their af­fair re­sulted in preg­nancy, and Lamorna gave birth to a daugh­ter, Delilah. Two years later, Lamorna took her own life and Seale, with great dig­nity, brought up Delilah as his own daugh­ter.

Only when she turned 19 and was about to go up to Ox­ford did Seale re­veal that Amis was her nat­u­ral fa­ther. In the years since, she has be­come part of Amis’s fam­ily and pre­sented him with a grand­son. As a ladies’ man with a rep­u­ta­tion to keep up, other women came and went. There were af­fairs with the writer Claire To­ma­lin and the fem­i­nist Ger­maine Greer, while other flames in­cluded book re­viewer Lorna Sage, Vic­to­ria Roth­schild, daugh­ter of the third Baron Roth­schild, and Tina Brown, edi­tor of Tatler, Van­ity Fair and the New Yorker.

The dal­liances ended when Amis met New Eng­land so­cialite An­to­nia Phillips, who be­came his first wife in 1984. For ten years he seemed bliss­fully happy — un­til he met the volup­tuous Is­abel Fon­seca, whose beauty had also been ad­mired by Sal­man Rushdie.

All th­ese women might, then, be part of the ‘ al­lur­ingly amoral’ Phoebe Phelps, who de­liv­ers the pa­ter­nity bomb­shell.

So what do the ex­perts make of the as­ser­tion about Larkin?

‘It’s fic­tion. There is noth­ing to sug­gest Martin is not Kings­ley’s son,’ says Zachary Leader, pro­fes­sor of English at Roe­hamp­ton Univer­sity in South-West Lon­don and the au­thor of a well-re­ceived bi­og­ra­phy of Kings­ley Amis.

‘His fa­ther could be a dif­fi­cult man, but they had a ter­rific re­la­tion­ship and were great pals and con­fi­dants.’

Amis se­nior did crit­i­cise his son’s writ­ings, no­tably for ‘break­ing the rules’ by putting el­e­ments of his own life into his nov­els.

Does any of that worry Martin Amis? Prob­a­bly not. What just might is whether this book will do what his oth­ers have so far failed to do and de­liver the kind of world­wide suc­cess his fa­ther en­joyed, not at 71 but at 32.

 ??  ?? Ladies’ men: Martin and Kings­ley in 1989
Ladies’ men: Martin and Kings­ley in 1989
 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK