This Day In Literary History
On August 25th, 1949, the famous English writer Martin Amis was born. He was born in Oxford, England, the son of famous writer Sir Kingsley Amis.
As a boy, Martin Amis attended 14 different schools, as his father gave lectures at colleges and universities all over the United Kingdom and the United States, taking the family with him.
Martin Amis was twelve years old when his parents divorced. He only read comic books until his stepmother, novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard, introduced him to the novels of Jane Austen, whom he credited as his earliest influence.
As a teenager, Martin became a hippie and hung out at bars with the mod crowd. He later graduated from Exeter College, Oxford, with a Congratulatory First in English, which he described as "the sort where you are called in for a viva and the examiners tell you how much they enjoyed reading your papers."
In 1973, Martin Amis' first novel, The Rachel Papers, was published. The semi-autobiographical comic novel told the story of Charles Highway, a bright, bookish, 19-year-old wannabe intellectual making the transition from adolescence to manhood.
Nasty yet moral, calculating yet able to love, Charles falls for the lovely Rachel, executes a carefully planned seduction of her, then abandons her even though she may be pregnant with his child. The absurdly conceited Charles doesn't realize how much he has in common with his father, whom he detests.
The Rachel Papers, which was adapted as a feature film in 1989, won Martin Amis the Somerset Maugham Award - the same award his father had won for his 1954 novel, Lucky Jim. Unfortunately, Sir Kingsley Amis showed no interest in his son's work and often derided it.
Martin's next novel, Dead Babies (1975), a black comedy, has been described as a cross between the works of P.G. Wodehouse and the Marquis de Sade. It's set in a bleak future where excess has become the norm, as the characters engage in orgies of sex and drugs. Dead Babies was adapted as a feature film in 2000, released in the United States under the title Mood Swingers.
Some of Martin Amis' best known and most respected novels were written in the 1980s and 90s, including Money (1984), London Fields (1989), Time's Arrow (1991), and The Information (1995).
In Time's Arrow, which was nominated for a Booker Prize, the novel is the autobiography of its main character, an ex-Nazi doctor accused of torturing Jews during the Holocaust. Amis employs an unusual narrative technique: time runs backward during the entire novel, to the point that the characters even speak backward.
In addition to his novels, Martin Amis also wrote short story collections and nonfiction. Some of his most memorable nonfiction books include The Moronic Inferno And Other Visits To America (1986) - a collection of satirical essays about all things American, from fashion to the religious right.
Koba The Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million (2002) is about the horrors of Stalinism. His most recent nonfiction book, The Second Plane: September 11: Terror and Boredom (2008) offers scathing attacks on both Islamic extremism and the Bush administration's response to it.
Martin Amis' latest novel, The Zone Of Interest, was published in August of 2014. Set in the Auschwitz concentration camp, circa 1942, it tells the story of Angelus Thomsen, a Nazi officer who falls in love with Hannah Doll, the wife of the commandant, Paul Doll.
The affair awakens the humanity of Thomsen, who becomes appalled by the inhumanity of Auschwitz. His love for Hannah helps her find sanity in an insane existence as the wife of the deluded, psychopathic commandant.
When her husband discovers the affair, Hannah's hate for Paul escalates, and she uses the affair to taunt him in private and embarrass him in public. So he plots to have her killed by blackmailing Szmul Zacharias, a Jewish Sonderkommando.
The novel features alternating first-person narration by Thomsen, Paul Doll, and Szmul Zacharias. Critics called it the best novel Amis has written since London Fields (1989).
Quote Of The Day
"The first thing that distinguishes a writer is that he is most alive when alone." - Martin Amis
Today's video features Martin Amis discussing his latest novel at the Chicago Humanities Festival. Enjoy!