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Experience - Leather Bound Limited Edition Hardcover – Special Edition, 18 May 2000
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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 --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
About the Author
Martin Amis has written many novels, including The Rachel Papers, Money and London Fields. He is also the author of collections of stories and non-fiction including his celebrated memoir, Experience, and his book on Stalin, Koba the Dread. His most recent publication is House of Meetings, a novella, published in 2006. (2003-06-09) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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I bought Kingsley Amis's "Memoirs" at the same time as I bought "Experience" - autobiographies of father and son together - that won't happen often! I read Kingsley's "Memoirs" first, and it is very good indeed, but less about himself than an autobiography would normally be. He actually tells us in the preface, that he is deliberately writing about his life as reflected through people he met or knew, rather than about his personal story, which he claims would make for dull (!!) reading, and also that it would risk hurting people that he loves, or had loved. And he sticks to that fairly well. Martin Amis's "Experience" is where one reads about the real Kingsley Amis (KA), or a least a much more revealing account, although I am fairly sure that a lot has still been held back, because apart from being a magnificent writer, Martin Amis (MA) clearly loved his father very much, even though they disagreed on almost every issue possible, and KA hurt a great many people indeed (as I'm sure many of us have in our time), and he certainly did not lead a dull life.
MA's book is not chronological,moving about a lot in time and location, and there are a lot of footnotes, with possibly half as much content as is in the main text. None of this is in any way disconcerting or boring or difficult to read. I would say that three main threads knit the story together: 1 > His father KA, 2 > The death of his cousin Lucy Partington at the hands of Frederick West, and 3> (somewhat bizarrely, yet very effectively), the saga of his own massive dentistry work in the US. These themes run through a kaleidoscope of memories, anecdotes, literary references, friends, influences, opinions and reflections. It is a story which is often very sad, always appearing to be brutally honest, and often uproariously funny, told in wonderful language by an obviously highly intelligent man who almost anyone must surely wish that they could call their friend. Well done Martin Amis, and thank you for adding something important to my life. This book can change the way one thinks about oneself.
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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