The fame of Martin Amis is peculiar—by which I mean peculiar to Martin Amis. It’s not a broad, old-school writerly fame, a Rider Haggard fame, whereby they’re naming glaciers after you in Canada. Amis sells too few books for that. (He might merit a small pub: the Martin Amis.) It’s not a bitchy, tinnital modern fame, some species of celebrity. Nor is it literary notoriety, exactly—Amis has run with no bulls, head-butted no Gore Vidals, repented for no fake memoirs, staggered blotto from no White Horse Taverns. He has never been carted off to Bellevue, or made a radio broadcast on behalf of an enemy power. He has not committed suicide. Now 63, he has led a writer’s life, sedentary and doggedly productive, the crowning scandal of his career being his failure (so far) to win the Booker Prize. True, now and again from his nicotine cloister he’ll pad forth—moon-rock brow, kippery color—to say something languidly provocative on Charlie Rose. But all the other writers do that too. And yes, he has a second wife. But so do all the other writers. So what is it about Amis? Why is he—rather than, say, A. N. Wilson—the sport and quarry of a feverish commentariat, such that when he goes to the dentist, or leaves his agent, or moves (as he recently did) to Brooklyn, you read about it in Slate, Newsweek, The New York Times, The New Republic, The New York Times again, and the silver-haired Smithsonian? Is it possible—can it be—that he is famous just for writing?
Well, it’s no good asking me. Or perhaps it is, if I can be taken as a sort of pathological literary specimen. For I have borne the mark of Amis—his aesthetic and perceptual stamp, right on my forehead—since a copy of The Rachel Papers first landed, drug-like, in my teenage hands. “Don’t I ever do anything else but take soulful walks down the Bayswater Road, I thought, as I walked soulfully down the Bayswater Road.” This brittle, mordant, self-inspecting consciousness, floating supremely on its saucer of style like the little green Mekon in Dan Dare—how it spoke to me, or seemed to speak for me. I was in. I was down. I was maimed for life.