Amis returns to the 1970s and his escapades with his famous friends in a curious, pompous ‘novel’, shot through with tips on grammar Martin Amis begins this baggy, curious book with an account of how it nearly wasn’t written. He had a go at it more than a decade ago, he confesses. He was going to call it Life: A Novel, but when he read through the 100,000 words of that manuscript, and then sat on a beach in Uruguay, near where he was living at the time, he thought he was finished, washed up. He could no longer hear himself in what he’d written, and there was a “vertiginous plunge in self-belief” that caused him to abandon that stack of pages. “Writers die twice,” he writes, with characteristic doom-freighted significance. “And on the beach I was thinking, Ah, here it comes, the first death.” He doesn’t indicate how much of that original manuscript makes its way into this one, but that first death is here set against the detail of three actual departures – the storied endings of Philip Larkin, Saul Bellow and Christopher Hitchens, two surrogate fathers and an unholy ghost, the lost trinity of influence in Amis’s writing life. Retracing the steps of each of them into oblivion gives him a structure to work with, and the kind of purpose he enjoys, a sort of oxymoronic inferno: “because if life is death, then death is very much alive”.
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