Amis & Amis

Charles McGrath in the NY Times:

22amis190 Ben Jonson wrote: “Greatness of name in the father oft-times helps not forth, but overwhelms the son; they stand too near one another. The shadow kills the growth.” This Oedipal principle applies to all sorts of professions, but few more so than the literary one. It’s not unheard of for the child of an author to try his hand at writing. Stephen King’s two sons are writers, and so is one of John Updike’s. Hilma Wolitzer’s daughter Meg is a novelist, as is Anita Desai’s daughter Kiran, whose second book just won the Booker Prize — an award that has so far eluded her mother. But writers’ offspring tend to go into the family business with far less regularity than, say, the children of doctors or lawyers, and it seldom happens that over the long haul, and in the deepening shade, the younger equals or outstrips the elder — the way that Anthony Trollope, to take a famous example, bested his mother, Fanny.

The exception these days is the curious writerly firm of Amis & Amis, founded by Kingsley, who died in 1995, and now run by his son Martin. Kingsley Amis, an indelible figure in British letters, is the subject of an immense and sympathetic new biography by Zachary Leader (published this month in the United States) that has already caused a stir in England both by reminding readers of how funny Kingsley could be and because of its frankness about his personal life. (Leader is a friend of Martin’s, who encouraged him to write the book and put no restrictions on him.) Martin, meanwhile, who published his first novel when he was just 24, has recently brought out his 10th, “House of Meetings,” and at 57 is arguably writing better than Kingsley was at the same age. He is a more daring and inventive novelist than his father — unafraid in “London Fields,” for example, to wheel out the whole tool chest of postmodern tricks — and in books like “Money,” about a would-be filmmaker spiraling out of control on both sides of the Atlantic, nearly as funny but on a much bigger canvas.

More here.