Boy to ma

Writer MARTIN AMIS is resigned to his £20,000 dental bill, his divorce and his pay packet being public property. Just don't call him a bad boy.

Words: Kathleen Morgan

MARTIN AMIS IS explaining why he is fed up being called the bad boy of English letters. ‘lt’s just not dignified any more I’ve just turned 48.’ he says, adding in a low growl: ‘l’m the bad man of English letters.‘

The bad boy label will be hard to shake off. When Amis‘s last novel The Information was published in 1995. it was in danger of being overshadowed by the author’s personal life.

Amis was lambasted in the press for leaving his wife and two young sons for another woman. He had given his agent and long-term publisher the elbow. employed Andrew ‘The Jackal’ Wylie to represent him. and secured a £500,000 advance for The Information.

Amis then spent £20,000 fixing his teeth in America. The treatment was labelled cosmetic dentistry Amis said he needed it if he was to eat. Whatever, the press was unwilling to dig as deep as his molars to discover the truth. He was branded greedy and the bad boy label became more entrenched.

The death of his father, writer Sir Kingsley Amis, completed what must have been Amis junior’s anntts horribilis.

With Amis’s new novel Night Train about to be published, he looks back at that time with a weary sense of acceptance and insists he is unmoved by the media’s treatment of him.

‘l’ve seen some people upset by the publicity they’re getting and they wake up in the middle of the night wrestling with these thoughts, but I’ve never had that,’ he says. ‘As a child I saw it all happen to my father when he got his divorce. I must have thought it was part of the job.’

But behind the author’s public face is Martin Amis the man bad or not. ‘There are things like divorce that you never recover from and you’ll be licking your wounds for the rest of your life.’ he admits. ‘And the loss of your father these are things you never get over

'There are things like divorce that you never recover from and you’ll be licking your wounds for the rest of your life.’ Martin Amis

lf Amis is still nursing his wounds. he is sounding rather buoyant for it. He sees Night Train as ‘a nice way to get away from anything resembling your own life’. lts noir style is certainly a departure from the acerbic wit of books like Money and London Fields, which have made him one of Britain’s most successful writers.

Night Train is a dark. haunting novel which follows the investigation of Detective Mike Hoolihan into the apparent suicide of a young female friend. It took even Amis by surprise. ‘lt’s a very grim book in some ways,’ he says.


Mature reflection: Martin Amis at 48

‘lt’s a kind of rejection of the world and I don’t feel that way myself more recently I feel the other way.’

The book’s narrator was another surprise for starters, Mike is a woman. What’s more, she is a reformed alcoholic more likely to carry a gun, a flashlight and a pair of rubber gloves than a lipstick. Amis insists she is not an answer to recurring criticisms of misogyny.

‘Mike is completely unrecognisable in my work,’ says Amis. ‘ln my novels the men are all self-deceived and grow up being lustful and the women tend to be vamps or seductresses. Mike is rather more iurid than my usual women. She’s about as butch as women can get without actually being male, but there are a lot of things that are feminine about her.’

Amis’s voice mellows as he confesses to feeling closer to her than any of his other creations. That is quite something, since many of them have been based on aspects of his own character.

Amis has reached into his own past to find the gloominess that permeates Night Train his cousin was a victim of murderer Fred West. ‘I was very close to her brother for some years so I spent a lot of time with her family,’ he says. ‘Perhaps more than most people I’ve got a sense of how bad things can get.’

Don’t expect to be dazzled by Night Train Amis keeps his literary wit on a short leash. But be prepared for this bleak tale to linger in a dark recess of your mind.

Night Train by Martin Amis is published by Jonathan Cape at £10.99. Amis is at Waterstone's. 153 Sauchiehall Street, Tue 7 Oct, 8pm, £2. See Book events. page 96.

26 Sep—9 Oct 1997 THE LIST 25

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