Britain's most controversial novelist talks to Tom Chatfield about his new book, the sexual revolution, Philip Larkin's sex life, and why JM Coetzee is no goodby Tom Chatfield / February 1, 2010 / Leave a comment
Above: Martin Amis, mid-discussion at the New Yorker Festival
I spoke to Martin Amis at his house in January, shortly before publication of his twelfth novel, “The Pregnant Widow.” If you’re not familiar with the book, it may be useful to look at my review of it (available here) before reading the interview.
Tom Chatfield: I wanted to start off by asking you about the new book, which I’ve been very struck by. It has had an unusually long gestation, and yet it read very easily to me, in a way that I hadn’t felt for a while: it felt very much of a piece.
Martin Amis: Well, that’s an accurate apprehension on your part. I’ll tell you exactly what happened. I struggled for years with a turgid autobiographical novel, with a fictional structure. It seemed endless and inert. And it’s a funny thing about life that, when you put it in a novel, it’s dead. None of the usual forces that are in a novel—to do with unities and metaphor and imagination—were there. There was this horrible Easter, the Easter before last, in Uruguay, where it seemed huge and endless, no end in sight. I just thought to myself, “my god, this is dead.”
I had a bad couple of weeks, and there was a bit in it that I liked, which was the Italy bit. It was a big bit, but it was a tenth of what I had written. I took it out and it was about maybe 100 pages—and I thought, can I get this up to a novel size and expand it? It was a bit I liked because it was the most fictional: although it all seems very transparent now. And then I wrote for a year, 15 months, and when the proofs came in the book was 470 pages long, so 370 were new and recent. The bulk of it was the latest stuff. So it doesn’t I hope have that feeling. In Mao II, Don DeLillo describes this block in writing a novel: “it was the colour of a monkey, it had alligator’s feet, it was a monstrosity…” which is what that was. And I realised that it was two novels. The other half will be pressed into a literary novel about Philip Larkin, Saul Bellow and Ian Hamilton [the British literary critic]—he’s the Neil Darlington figure [in The Pregnant Widow]. And…