Martin Amis on life and Kingsley Amis

Martin Amis describes seeing his father, Kingsley Amis in a dream in his autobiography, Experience. Published in 2000, five years after his father’s death, it’s one of the most intimate accounts of a father-and-son relationship that I have ever read.

He writes:

Why should I tell the story of my life?

I do it because my father is dead now, and I always knew I would have to commemorate him. He was a writer, and I am a writer; it feels like a duty to describe our case — a literary curiosity which is also just another instance of a father and a son.

He writes about his father explaining the mysteries of sex to him and his elder brother, Philip, when they were schoolboys and the conversations they had when he had grown up.

His father pops up even when he is writing about other things. He recalls the articles he published in the New Statesman following the death of the critic FR Leavis and calling them a “symposium”. A symposium originally meant a drinking party, he says and adds: 

And that is what Kingsley liked, above all things. Well, he probably liked adultery even better, in his manly noon, but the symposium was a far more durable and unambivalent pleasure — a love whose month was forever May.


Juliet, Naked and Nick Hornby: A bit of his life

Juliet, Naked is a mash-up of my favourite Nick Hornby novels, covering the music scene like High Fidelity and exploring the relationship between kids and grownups like About A Boy. So, yes, it’s entertaining. Probably, it would be even better as a movie. There are enough sweet and funny moments in this story about celebrity and the internet and the fragility of love and marriage.

I can’t forget the scene where Tucker Crowe, a burnt-out American singer-songwriter, goes to bed with his biggest fan’s live-in companion, Annie — and his six-year-old son, Jackson, walks in.

Jackson wants to sleep with his father. He knows his parents have reached breaking point and is afraid his father might die because Tucker has just had an operation.

Hornby knows children’s needs and fears.

He says in this video:

Jackson does have a relationship with my six-year-old in that he went through a period, thankfully now stopped, of being incredibly worried about everybody’s mortality.


1812 and all that: Aubrey and Maturin

Masterandcommander I haven’t seen the film, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, but like the author, Patrick O’Brian. So it was a pleasure to pick up the book, The Fortune of War, where Captain Jack Aubrey and his friend, doctor and secret agent Stephen Maturin, are caught in the War of 1812.

I haven’t come to the actual fighting yet; I am still in the early part where Aubrey leaves behind his old ship, the Leopard, in the East Indies and sails with the doctor and his men for England to take command of a new ship. But the Royal Navy ship taking them home catches fire and sinks after rounding the Cape. Aubrey and his men row across the vast ocean until they are picked up by another British naval vessel. On board, they hear talk of war between Britain and America.

The Americans have already won a naval engagement, Aubrey hears and — like the other Royal Navy officers — cannot believe how that could happen while Maturin worries how the hostilities might affect Britain, already at war against Napoleon. Maturin, with his Spanish-Irish connections, hates Napoleon the tyrant and conqueror of Spain and wants Britain to beat back the French instead of being drawn into a war with America.

I have read the book up to that point and do not know what is to come. I haven’t read The Far Side of The World where the War of 1812 continues. I have to read the adventures in a piecemeal, haphazard fashion, having to borrow the books from the library. So I have read the first book, Master and Commander, the second, Post Captain, and some of the later books, such as The Letter of Marque, The Commodore and The Yellow Admiral, but have yet to read some of the intervening adventures.

O’Brian is a wonderful writer who can make the past come alive. He not only tries to get the language and the details right; his characters are also masterly drawn.

Aubrey is a bluff sailor while Maturin has a complex personality, but we see the other side of the sailor, too — the loving husband and father far from home. When he craves action or booty, he is only trying to advance his career or enrich himself to provide for his family. The sailor far from home is really a family man at heart. I can empathise with him and his lovely wife who love each other deeply despite their prolonged separations. It makes me think of myself and my wife and my son — she is in Calcutta (Kolkata), he has gone to college in the US, while I am in Singapore. But enough about myself.

O’Brian can be funny too. He describes Aubrey, a fine captain and navigator but no bookman himself, educating his midshipmen — young lads who had to be taught by their captains at the time. Aubrey quizzes the boys on the Bible. Who is Abraham, he asks. A bosun, says one; a corn chandler, says another, remembering something about Abraham and his "seed"; the third boy says, "Oh, he was an ordinary wicked Jew."  As Eliot might say, "After such knowledge what forgiveness?"  Aubrey canes the boy.