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Experience [Hardcover]

Martin Amis
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)

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Book Description

18 May 2000
Martin Amis is perhaps the most gifted novelist of his generation. His prose refashions the English language into a lean and brillant instrument, dazzling readers with its energy and wit. His novels and short stories chart a world that is uniquely his: as John Updike puts it, `Amis is trying to construct a large, reaching, ambitious set of books - trying to cover the world in fiction'. His celebrity as a novelist is also unique - few writers have attracted such obsessive media attention. In this much anticipated memoir, Amis writes with striking candour about his life and looks intimately at the process of writing itself. As the son of a famous writer, the great comic novelist Kingsley Amis, Martin Amis explores his relationship with his father and writes about the various crises of Kingsley's life, including the final crisis of his death. Amis also examines the case of his cousin, Lucy Partington, who disappeared without a trace in 1973 (a month after the publication of his first novel), and was exhumed in 1994 from the back garden of Frederick West, Britain's most prolific serial killer. Inevitably, too, the memoir records the changing literary scene in Britain and the United States, with many anecdotes and pen-portraits. The result is a remarkable work of autobiography - profound, witty ,and ruthlessly honest. As a writer's self-portrait, it is destined to become a classic. (2000-01-21)

Product details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape, London; Numbered First Edition edition (18 May 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224050605
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224050609
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 16.2 x 3.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,097,154 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Martin Amis is the author of ten novels, the memoir Experience, two collections of stories and six collections of non-fiction. He lives in London.

Product Description

Amazon Review

At one point in this remarkable book, Martin Amis refers to a phrase he coined in a 1983 newspaper piece on Saul Bellow. "Higher autobiography", intended to convey a fork taken by late 20th century literature, lingers on the palate long after the final page, awash with pictures of his various children. He is no longer "the kid", as Bellow puts it to him after the death of father Kingsley in 1995, and this generational shift is sharply in evidence within the quietly smouldering pages of Experience. Shunning orthodox chronology for more satisfying linearity, Amis explores the issues that have dogged his life and his reputation for too long. Though he is angry--mostly with the English media--the tone of the book is one of patient memorial and reconciliation, with most obviously Kingsley, and his own manifestations, but also with his "missing"--the cousin, Lucy Partington, a victim of Fred West's "prepotence", and the daughter, Delilah, by an earlier relationship. Gossip column titbits are confronted head-on: divorce, the change of literary agent, the falling-out with Julian Barnes, the row with Kingsley's biographer Eric Jacobs and, of course, the Teeth (actually deserving of a full set of capitals; the hardest heart would flinch and whimper at the reconstructive surgery he endured, ignorantly disparaged as "cosmetic").

The revelation of the book, however, lies in the body of the book, in its weave and stitching. Copious footnotes adorn most pages, not digressive but novelistically collusive to a self-defeating desire to "speak without artifice". A book of love, it is also one of the funniest books ever to wear the cloak of death and mortality so constantly. Money was a novel, says Amis, about "the fear that childlessness will condemn you to childishness". This volume, about how many people leave a room compared to entering it--to quote a recurrent theme--exorcises that particular fear, and a more general dread that has perpetually haunted his prose. Experience, pitched between his splendid journalism and his fiction, is a wake-up call to those who have too easily dismissed his work. It is a considerable, haunting work. --David Vincent


"A scrupulous and candid writer" (Guardian)

"His memoir is dazzling, provocative and mordant" (Arthur Smith The Week)

"Funny, sad, moving and absolutely riveting" (Daily Telegraph)

"On virtually every page there is a phrase that is blissfully funny and ingenious...never less than compelling" (Mail on Sunday)

"Three times in the reading of this book, the courage, compassion and simplicity of Amis's writing brought me to tears. As a portrait of sustaining love between a father and a son, Experience stands alone among the testaments" (The Time) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amis at his best 8 Jan 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
While I have not always found Amis' fiction to my taste, I still feel compelled to read him. With many other authors, if they had written books as poor as "Yellow Dog" or "Dead Babies", I would never have picked them up again. So why have I continued with Amis? Because for every moment of cringey dialogue that he comes up with, there is always a moment of poetic brilliance.

So, in my dedication to the man and his works I picked up a copy of "Experience" and was blown away. There is all the usual brilliance here with none of the cringe. It is of course memoir rather than fiction, but this is far from the usual recounting of events found in most memoirs. A lot of the book is about his father and their relationship, while the rest of it focuses on other family and a few non-family relationships. Amis makes some incredible observations on growing up and moving from innocence to experience, reflecting his life through the lens of his children and parents. The observations on love and recovery from it are beautiful (the moment when his son says something like 'I hate love' after Amis' divorce, and what Amis has to say about it, stands out), as well as his comments on the fading away of life and our attitudes to death, in which he talks about his father, Larkin, Bellow, and his cousin who was a victim of Fred West.

This is a moving book, particularly the last 100 pages, and I am very much looking forward to picking up a copy of the sequel, "Koba the Dread".
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A funny, moving, brilliant memoir 8 Aug 2000
By A Customer
A man approaches fifty and looks back gratefully on the blessings he has enjoyed - his children, his friendships, his parents, his interesting career - while ruing the ills he has suffered - failed marriages, deaths, physical pain and notoriety. But with the touch of Martin Amis, this standard stuff becomes the core of a hilarious and moving memoir, which flashes brilliantly from subject to subject, and is consistently fine from start to end.
"Experience" is like a buffet, chock-a-block with dishes, not all of them congenial. But oddly, many reviewers have focused on only one dish: Amis's talk of teeth, which is deemed an "obsession." While this is a frequent subject, his hilarious stories about his bad teeth and gums function as an amusing surface that connects to some deep and grievous pain in his life, which includes the grisly murder of his young cousin, and his own marital estrangement. The funny mortifying stories about tooth loss just make it easier to engage when Amis circles around to contemplate these and other truly horrible experiences.
The structure of this book is unique. There are eighteen chapters, each centered on a broad subject (Women and Love, The Problem of Re-Entry). Between each chapter is a letter the young Martin wrote to his parents, mostly while he was at Oxford. Then, each page jumps with footnotes, where Amis treats the reader to brilliant narrative-enriching clarifications and anecdotes. The effect of all this activity? The book has a sparkling quality, with bright thought packed beside hilarious story, as the writer moves deftly from subject to subject.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hard work for a lazy reader but worth it 5 Oct 2001
By A Customer
I borrowed this book from the library and am now buying it because I want it on my bookshelf. I'm one of those readers who trips over themselves trying to get to the end of the paragraph before finishing the beginning. Consequently the footnotes and dense prose of this book had me working very hard indeed but it was so worth it. I found it extremely moving and surprisingly humble. Perhaps he bangs on about his teeth too much but, as someone who has experienced the trauma of extensive dental work, I can understand how it can permeate all conscious thought and experience.
I've always been very fond of both Martin & (more so) Kingsley Amis' work but have been slightly uncomfortable about their more hard-boiled attitudes and their misogyny. However, I can generally forgive people most things if they make me laugh and this book is also very witty. Like his father, Martin Amis' writing can make you cackle/snort out loud and, most importantly, forget the tedious tube/train journey you're taking.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A highly selective but wonderfully written memoir 10 July 2008
Whilst Amis has self-consciously forgone detailing all but the bare bones of his inter-personal relationships, he has sought to compensate for this by focusing on his relationship with his father, his reaction to the death of his cousin at the hands of Fred West and his battles with his appearance (his weight as a child and teeth as an adult). But the tabloid editor's loss is our gain as he uses these and other reminiscences as fodder for grand reflections on his life up to middle age. As someone with only a couple of Amis novels to my name, I found this a terrific, affecting read.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
.I'm female and a loathed journalist, to make things worse -- but I found this book extraordinarily impressive. I read it in two days and nights and was blown away by its exact, original and always modern voice. He uses prose like a knife thrower, coming up with the exact word or phrase that cuts to the quick. I admired him for his courage in revealing the pain and consequences of today's family traumas -- betrayal, adultery, divorce, re-marriage -- and his willingness to face the fact that those we claim to love most, our children, suffer most. He is generous towards his friends, betrayers, and even his dentist. He knows when to keep silent (not a word of criticism of his first wife, let alone of his father). This book dispels a whole lot of preconceptions about Martin Amis and makes him (he'll hate this) admirable to the point of being lovable. When I had finished it I wanted to send him a fan letter, but I feared my literary style wouldn't pass his 'war against cliche' test.
You may hitherto have categorised Amis as arrogant, sexually predatory, aggressive, foul-mouthed and over-rated. Read EXPERIENCE and be proved wrong. Maybe middle age has humbled him, maybe the death of his father has freed him, maybe his second wife has mellowed him ... whatever the reason, this book shows him to be a better, subtler & more sensitive human being than he ever let on before.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars VERY BAD WRITING
I purchased this expecting it to be a real treat to read. No such luck. Very hard to read, the footnotes more than irksome and probably the most pretentious and self-indulgent... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Marianne Cupit
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book: Amis' Song of Innocence and Experience
The photograph on the cover of this book is in many ways indicative of its content; like all of Martin Amis' work, this memoir is an achievement of masterful chiaroscuro, dealing... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Andrew Mottram
5.0 out of 5 stars Thank you, Martin Amis!
Well, first things first: this is the best autobiography I have ever read. Ever. It is also very possibly the best book of any type that I have ever read, although that claim, as... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Philip Mayo
5.0 out of 5 stars . Measured. Affectionate. Pained. Brilliant.
I would like to say that this book gave me great pleasure, but since it is about pain and loss, besides abiding love, perhaps a more appropriate comment would be that I read it... Read more
Published 22 months ago by Elizabeth Scarratt
1.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly Irritating
I had always fancied reading a Martin Amis book and unfortunately selected this one.

As I progressed some 40% into the book it increasingly became such an irritation... Read more
Published on 11 July 2012 by Robin Tims
1.0 out of 5 stars Shallow
Experience? This guy and his ignorance... The biggest sham in the lit world, Martin Amis. In a few 50s years no one is going to care for this idiot, and his nonsense cause at no... Read more
Published on 21 Feb 2012 by SamSpade
4.0 out of 5 stars The Compulsion Of Confession
I know this has been out ages, but something this big takes time. "Experience" is the closest thing that Martin Amis gets to an auto-biography, presenting instead an... Read more
Published on 17 Oct 2010 by Mr. M. A. Reed
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
I thought this would be an autobiography but it was no such thing. I raked through the first boring part and on through the depressing middle, all about death and false teeth... Read more
Published on 21 Aug 2010 by Pauline Butcher Bird
5.0 out of 5 stars Surely a masterpiece....?.
Amis is one of the county's original writers. In this auto-biography he writes un-flinchingly
about his life, his famous father (who I thought came out well despite, or... Read more
Published on 24 Oct 2009 by Adrian Webber
5.0 out of 5 stars True genius, a brutal heartbreaking tale, one of the best i've ever...
I came away from Amis' novel quite moved, sad, frustrated but feeling like i had learned so much from this man. Read more
Published on 5 Sep 2008 by British Boy Toy
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