Living in the country, as we do, if I should cite a sound as one I prefer, you must regard yourself as entitled to give slight weight to the recommendation. It's in cities, after all, where one gets trombones, and cable car clangours, and the swirl of the olive's toothpick against a martini's better stemware. For some time, therefore, I make no apology for having regarded the sound of my dog Whit's drinking fresh well water from his Japanese earthen bowl as one of the prettiest refrains of the day, and I don't care if this exploitation of that sacred image is an extraction of sentiment. Sentiment, Nabokov has warned us, is disparaged most often by those who don't know what it is; and in the meanwhile, weighed even with the sound of the morning lark and the distant afternoon rumble of thunder, there is a rhythmic, cymbaline delicacy to the ripples of my dog's refreshment which always stops me dead in my present activity, simply to allow it to soothe my own spirits.
There is not, umbrage compels me to say, any resemblance between this innocent canticle and the noise which awakened me last evening, Mr Martin Amis' Pregnant Widow resting on my lap - a book, I suppose I should say - of Whit having bounded up to my bed to drain my mug of its freshly brewed Peruvian coffee, laced with steamed, local milk.
A thump and a howl and a clattering scattering of spaniel paws later, I found myself where one pretty much always does with Mr Amis, all alone and somewhat drowsily dislocated by a text pock-marked with that clinical phrase for Friday's divine rite.
Those who know the fiction of his father will recognise "sexual intercourse" as Mr Amis' Iraq war: the thing that just had to consume him, because of his father's expertise with it.
But there is a reason why this place harbours more than one example of Mr Amis' fiction. It's not just that we are contemporaries, that his father was agonisingly funny, and that he is very large; it's that his non-fiction is so strong that one cannot believe his wits will be unrecognisable in a novel that has been praised to the skies, even at Heywood Hill. It was with this very provenance in mind that I had brought his Pregnant Widow to that site of admittedly volatile criticism this Friday night, where it lay so eerily lightly, given the frothy standards of English book-building today, in which one turns the page entirely at one's own risk.
Now, I am bound to return to it, but I can't be sure when, because it really is very clinical, by way of obviously proposing to be both funny and observant. You can tell he means to be both, because he sets his Brits in Italy, and gives them a good allowance. We ask ourselves again, if fiction - unlike acting, say, or cuisine - is a generation-skipping art form; or, rather, if the multiple seductions of being a media figure are only bound to disclose an original, distinguishing strength. Who knew, for example, that the author of Deer Park or of Williwaw, for that matter, would turn out to be among our finer public counsellors in other forms?
The word cannot be too good, one must exuberantly say, for Martin Amis' The War Against Cliché, a collection of essays from his 22nd to his 50th year. (He is my source for the Gervais-pleasing reference to Nabokov, in a review of the master's collected lectures). This is limpid, lively, and literate writing in the mode, pretty much, of extremely amiable conversation, and it seems to have deserved, very handily, its National Book Critics (USA) Circle Award for criticism. He gives animation to his arguings that I never see in his plottings. This makes his intelligence attractive, and shows he understands that to read, is to spend time with someone.
I note that a number of blogs I read,
cited to the right in Context, exhibit
a critical disposition, and so I assume
this compendium is probably pretty fam-
iliar in that circle of peers. It merits being known as simply delightful read- ing, the sort of thing which Friday
really could be about, if it were to put its mind to it.
Even allowing for the stimulation of cities, it isn't true, I don't think, that most of us achieve much enjoyment of that faculty during the week, given those indentures so prevalent in our time to the affairs of Mr Romney's people, the Delaware chartered corporation. I would sooner ensconce such worthies on my lap for Friday's pursuits, than yield to them that night. This is not a very nice thing to say, but while under the extenuating irritation of Whit's invasion of my mug, I'd let it go, Mr Amis does not: social issues should have only a conditional bearing on what we generally regard as works of the fancy.
The Pregnant Widow
Jonathan Cape, 2010©
The War Against Cliché
Essays and Reviews, 1971-2000
Random House, 2002©
P. Gaye Tapp
7 July 2011