Peter Craven at The Sydney Review of Books:
How strange the whirligigs of time are when it comes to literature. It’s only a few decades, a second in the eye of eternity, since Julian Barnes and his then friend and ally Martin Amis represented the new British writing. I remember Barnes saying to me back in the days when I published him in Scripsi and celebrated him when I could – or should – in the literary pages, ‘I think my work and Martin Amis’s both benefited from the fact that the dominant mode of British fiction ceased to be social realism with a comic twist.’
That was in the early nineties when Smarty Anus (as he has long been called) was looking like a behemoth of Dickensian novelistic invention. In books such as London Fields, sordor, sorrow, squalor and sex were all wrapped in the silk (sometimes the cellophane) of Amis’s prose. That prose appeared back then, more than any British prose before it, as something like a lassoing larrikin idiom, prose that could give the Americans at their wildest and most idiolectally inspired a run for their money.
But of course, there had always been another voice in the new British writing — Julian Barnes. It was clear then, and remains so now, that the unassailable masterpiece of the period was Barnes’ shortish novel Flaubert’s Parrot (1984). This strange story of obsession, which distilled the essence of the author ofMadame Bovary via Barnes’ transfiguration of Steegmuller translating the Master, is the work that stands in relation to Amis not only at his grandest but also his most loose and baggy the way Jeffrey Eugenides’ Virgin Suicideswould stand to David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest a few years later.