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4.1 out of 5 stars
41
4.1 out of 5 stars
Experience
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VINE VOICEon 8 January 2008
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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on 5 October 2001
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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on 8 August 2000
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. Best of all, this structure enables the never-boring Amis to circle back to his most critical issues, such as his father Kingsley Amis or the murdered Lucy, always enriching his narrative.
In this fine book, Amis is at his very best when he writes about his own father, the great comic novelist Kingsley Amis. In this mode, Martin is loving and appreciative, forgiving of his father's weaknesses, and devoted to his strengths. I think this work is among the most touching father-son stuff ever written. Maybe it was Amis's intention all along. But his book makes me want to read "Lucky Jim".
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 17 October 2010
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 anti-biography. Conventional details such as birthdates, middle names, weddings, children all go by the wayside, and instead Amis presents us the most non-linear autobiography ever, instead detailing the inner monologue and concentrating on some huge themes and preoccupations as opposed to anything about himself.

Still, if there is one thing you can say about him - he's a writer. He manages to make the most tedious subjects sound interesting. Whole chapters are spent on the differences between dentists in the US, dentists in the UK, and the terminology they use. Most of the rest of the 400 or so pages Amis offers are variations on the theme of absence, his father - Kingsley - painted between the lines as a bit of a drunken womaniser is portrayed, faults intact, as only a son can. He's flawed, human, and yet somehow, you can't help but warm to him.

The other main theme, and one that Amis veers off into for huge stretches, is the murder of his relative Lucy Partington at the hands of Fred West. Whole pages are devoted to analysing how she may have died, and Fred's appearance at hospital just a handful of days after her disappearance bearing unusual scratches and wound - the implication being that Lucy was a fighter. The information here is really only scratching the surface of detail Amis unflinching, but reluctantly, touches upon. (and dealt with in more depth in Gordon Burn's "Happy Like Murderers", a disturbing portrayal of Britain's most unusual marriage).

Still, its testament to his ability as a writer that he makes anything sound interesting, even if it initially doesn't appear to be so. If you're a fan of his work then its well worth investigation - though it appears that given his limited amount of recent work, comprising of a set of uninspiring short stories, a generic female cop thriller, and two sets of non-fiction, that the Amis well is starting to dry up in terms of inspiration and subject matter, even if "Experience" presents at the height of technical skills and ability. Let's hope its a temporary blip.

For Amis fans, I'd rate this 4/5. For the uninterested, given its subject matter, I'd rate it at 2/5.
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on 5 September 2008
I came away from Amis' novel quite moved, sad, frustrated but feeling like i had learned so much from this man. I don't want to go too much into detail, you really need to read this incredible book yourself. But Amis has written a great tribute to his father, but more importantly, his cousin Lucy. It's tough at times to read because Amis is so brutally accurate it can be quite unsettling. After all, this is what makes him such a damn good writer. Like life itself, Amis' recollections go from one memory to another but in no logical order. But this is what makes his writing so fascinating. Amis, to me, is like literature's Stanley Kubrick: daring, honest, brutal, just fascinating. Whether you like him or not, you won't be the same after you read this.
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on 12 January 2001
Reading Experience is an odd experience. It has little of the completeness of (auto)biography yet it often promises to give up some of its (and by implication) the authors' secrets. I know more about Martin Amis than I know about any living author, so the thought of MORE, was somewhat deadening. Sensibly this is more a book about Kingsley, about growing up under and around Kingsley, and about what Kingsley's writing means to his son. As time goes by Martin has seemed more his fathers' son. The latter work of Martin has been full of doubt - this from the boy who had it easy. Cleverly he doesnt dwell on his misfortune in this book, but plots the misfortunes that happen around him, divorce, death, and - worse - Fred West. There are stories to be told here, certainly, and so it is perhaps right that he should now tell them. The little grievances are kept to a minimum...it is difficult to dislike Amis after reading this, his evenhandedness is mature, adult...and yet, there is something missing - both as memoir and (lest we forget) work of art. Love - as in personal, sexual - is not an issue that he wants to talk about, except in relation to his parents. To talk about your parents love life, without really commenting on your own...its a strange set of priorities and doesn't dispel the image from his previous fictions that Martin Amis doesn't like writing about women much. There is also a wider issue - unsaid, but in publishing this (to much acclaim)- hinted at...where does Martin Amis the writer now stand. In a decade, he has given us a poor midlife crisis novel, a limp short story collection, a short but energised novella (Night Train) and now this. For our greatest prose stylist to have nothing much to say any more remains the enigma behind the work. The book-a-year man that was his father would surely have something to say about such a tardy workload. I feel that, like alot of memoirs/non-fiction this could have been a wonderful extended essay -and it is readable, and despite periods worth skipping, well-achieved - but I fear it will not last out the year. (My hardback copy was already a remainder, for what its worth.) Having said all that, anyone with some affection for Kingsley (and I have), man and his work, should give it a read.
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on 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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on 24 October 2009
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 perhaps because of, his many
eccenticities), the murder of his cousin, his terrible dental problems, and the (also terrible)
media coverage he receives. The last I could not understand at all: why do newspapers (in particular), make up so many lies about him? It makes no sense unless of course they envy his literary ability?

The book is a fine companion if you want to be stretched in your perceptions and beliefs. He always sees things with an angle (and an original angle to be sure).

Also, I believe this is a Martin Amis quote: Why do we read?
So we know we're not alone

Well, he has surely proven that here.

Simply life enhancing.
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VINE VOICEon 23 August 2013
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 we readers know, is really an impossible call to make; like in Sophie's Choice, sometimes it's impossible to choose; but believe me, this is a stunningly good book. I finished this book at about 6 am this morning, having started it a few days ago, and was unable to put it down without feeling instant longings to get back to it. It is quite incredible. It was like being in love! I couldn't think of anything else! So please read it.

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.
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on 19 May 2002
Experience is great read. It is a very selective and stylised autobiographical memoir, with a haunted look about it, and surprisingly humble. After reading it you wish that Kinglsey Amis could come back to life, such is the warm, flawed human portrait drawn of him in the book. I like Experience so much that I keep my copy of it on the bedside table, and reread it in a loop. The bit where a beer can sprays beer over Kingsley is my favourie scene. My only complaint would be that Martin Amis uses too many words like "infarction", "ablution" and "bathetic". I think the book would have been just as good (better, even?) if it had been written in good old ordinary words like "lump", "washing" and "high-falluting". But hey, I have a low IQ so please excuse my episteme!
This book is top quality. Buy Two copies in case you lose one!
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