Poor old Martin Amis. He's so easy to dislike, partly because of his ridiculous bad boy persona (cultivated against a backdrop of privilege and opportunity), but mainly because he takes himself so seriously.
I admit that I'm prejudiced. When I became a bookseller, Amis was one of a generation of writers who were portrayed as young and edgy - more American than British - capturing the late 20th century zeitgeist. The reality was a small group of nice, upper-middle class men in their 40s, writing fiction that was technically innovative, but ultimately unsatisfying.
Turn the clock back to the mid-1990s and Martin Amis was at the top of his game: still the enfant terrible of British writers, but with a beautiful new wife, new teeth and a £500,000 advance from HarperCollins. Then, as in many great novels, hubris was followed by downfall.
The Information was Amis's first novel for HarperCollins. It was a disaster. It had been decided that as Amis was such a strong "brand", the usual convention of having the title and author on the dustjacket would be abandoned. Instead, there would be a simple "i".
Unfortunately, less wasn't more and the novel flopped. It's hard to tell how many sales were lost as a result of the bold cover design, but I think it's safe to say that HarperCollins didn't recoup their advance for a long time (if ever). In spite of this fiasco, the creative team behind the "i" still won an industry award.
The pendulum seems to have swung in the opposite direction since The Information. Amis is frequently caricatured as the young pretender who sold his soul for the Murdoch shilling to buy new teeth. Every new work seems to prompt a spate of vitriolic views.
The reason I'm writing this is because I found a copy of Amis's memoir Experience the other day, lying on top of a skip. It was a perfectly good copy, but because its sales ranking on Amazon was so low, it was about the be pulped. I picked it up and saw this passage:
"On a tube train to Earl's Court I saw a young man reading The Rachel Papers, about a week after its publication. He was enjoing the book, and in the best possible way: a reluctant smile, an unreluctant smile, a reluctant smile, and so on. I still regret that I didn't go up to him. But I told myself: listen, this will be happening all the time - get used to it."
I immediately thought "Typical Martin Amis. Bloody arrogant..." and almost threw the book back into the skip. If I had, I would have missed the next sentence:
"I need hardly add that it didn't happen again for about fifteen years. When my first novel won the Somerset Maugham Award I told myself the same sort of thing: get used to it. And that never happened again."