Why we love to hate Martin Amis

Sam Leith in The Guardian:

ScreenHunter_765 Aug. 23 16.26Around the time his novel The Pregnant Widow came out in 2010, an interviewer asked Martin Amis whether the book constituted a return to form. “What's this return shit?” he shot back. “I don't know how this will go down, but my talent seems to me to be perfectly vigorous.” You can almost hear the voice, the italics, the roll-your-own rasp: part surly, part amused. A little bit more surly.

This is Amis in combat stance, the position he has occupied for as long as most of us can remember. There is no living British writer who garners as much attention as Amis; so much of it hostile; and so much of that hostility, circularly, arising from the attention itself. He pushes back.

With a new novel coming – this month's heavily embargoed Auschwitz book The Zone of Interest – the circus starts up again. Amis occupies a really peculiar position in our national life. He is the object of envy, contempt, anger, disapproval, theatrical expressions of weariness – but also of fascination. Has there in living memory been a writer whom we (by which I mean the papers, mostly) so assiduously seek out for comment – we task him to review tennis, terrorism, pornography, the state of the nation – and whom we are then so keen to denounce as worthless? In recent years his public interventions on everything from Islamist terror to population demographics have caused mini shitstorms; and critics seem to take a particular, giant-killing glee in slamming his fiction. Setting out to write a retrospective essay on his work and reputation, the implied title you find yourself reaching for is “in defence of … “

It's as if, and in answer to some inchoate public need, we demand of Amis that he say things in public so we can all agree on what an ass he is. He has spoken in the past – surly/amused – of an “eisteddfod of hostility”, as if his detractors were the excitable participants in a provincial arts festival.

Why the eisteddfod? Why him? I think it has to do with the way we have positioned him, and – to an extent – with the way he has positioned himself.

More here.