Experience: A Memoir

( 4 )

Overview

Martin Amis is one of the most gifted and innovative writers of our time. With Experience, he discloses a private life every bit as unique and fascinating as his bestselling novels.

The son of the great comic novelist Kingsley Amis, Martin Amis explores his relationship with this father and writes about the various crises of Kingsley's life. He also examines the life and legacy of his cousin, Lucy Partington, who was abducted and murdered by one of Britain’s most notorious ...

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Overview

Martin Amis is one of the most gifted and innovative writers of our time. With Experience, he discloses a private life every bit as unique and fascinating as his bestselling novels.

The son of the great comic novelist Kingsley Amis, Martin Amis explores his relationship with this father and writes about the various crises of Kingsley's life. He also examines the life and legacy of his cousin, Lucy Partington, who was abducted and murdered by one of Britain’s most notorious serial killers. Experience also deconstructs the changing literary scene, including Amis' portraits of Saul Bellow, Salman Rushdie, Allan Bloom, Philip Larkin, and Robert Graves, among others. Not since Nabokov'sSpeak, Memory has such an implausible life been recorded by such an inimitable talent. Profound, witty, and ruthlessly honest, Experience is a literary event.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Fuses humor, intellect and daring with a new gravitas and warmth.”–Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“A splendid writer.... Hums with the same antic prose and looping comic riffs that characterize Amis’ fiction.”–Time

“Superb memoir...a moving account of [Amis’s] coming of age as an artist and a man.”–San Francisco Chronicle

LA Times
Holden Caulfield meets Herzog, and it is good
SF Examiner
...discover not only the expected literary brilliance, but also a wholly unanticipated portion of warmth, humanity, friendship - and, yes, love - all without an iota of sentimentality...has the satisfactions of a superior novel...Martin Amis has given us a memoir for the ages.
New Yorker
Experience is not ordered chronologically. The technique works wonderfully.
Time Magazine
..riveting memoir...The portrait of his father... is fascinating and moving...a splendid writer.
inside.com
The acerbic novelist rewards his fans with this highly entertaining memoir ..Amis novices may be surprised by the compassion he's found.
— June 13, 2000
Andrew Roe
...a balanced, haunting work of memory and memorial, a surprisingly gentle meditation on fathers and sons, mortality, the loss of innocence, divorce, friendship, love -- what Amis calls "the main events," those "ordinary miracles and ordinary disasters" that shape you and define you and remain forever in your blood and being.
Salon
Vogue
A lovely and gossip-rich tour of his life. As a literary performer, he is still close to peerless.
—May 26, 2000
Mirabella
An openhearted remembrance, which...divulges neither too much or too little.
—May 26, 2000
The Independent
Amis has written an utterly fascinating self-portrait...and an enthralling account of the fragility of life.
—May 20, 2000
The Guardian
Experience is a beautiful, and beautifully strange book, and it is unlike anything one expected.
—May 2000
The Daily Telegraph
Funny, sad, moving and absolutely riveting. Amis is a seriously good writer, and never on better form than now. Experience, the book of his life, may be the book of his life.
—May 2000
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The big book on this new publisher's first list is an occasionally combative but more often sweet-natured account of a literary life with an extraordinary father. Even by English standards Kingsley Amis, whom his son rightly sees as the finest comic novelist of his generation, was a highly eccentric figure: a man who loved women in the flesh as much as he appeared to disapprove of them in principle, an alcoholic who managed to create a large body of clear-headed work, a man who couldn't bear to be alone in a house at night, but whose mastery of invective was second to none--a difficult man to live with, it would seem, yet here recalled by Martin in the most fond and generous terms. The book revolves around a small group of seminal figures in Amis's life: his father; Saul Bellow, whom he seems to have adopted as a father figure; his young cousin Lucy Partington, who disappeared in 1973 and was later found to have been a victim of child-killer Frederick West; and longtime friend Christopher Hitchens. The controversial elements in his life aren't glossed over: the so-called cosmetic dentistry, about which the press so gloated at the time of Amis's parting from his previous agent for a larger book deal through Andrew Wylie, is shown to have been an attempt to correct, with extensive and painful surgery, a long-neglected condition of his teeth and jaw. His belated discovery of a previously unknown daughter is described with eloquent sweetness, and the account of the squabble with Kingsley's biographer, Eric Jacobs, over an account of the novelist's last days he gave to English newspapers is rendered more in sorrow than anger. There seems no doubt that a certain pugnaciousness in Amis has led to perplexingly hostile behavior toward him by the English press; it will be interesting to see how this candid, often funny and far from arrogant book will be treated there. B&W photos. (June) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Following in the steps of Christopher Dickey (Summer of Deliverance; LJ 7/98) and V.S. Naipaul (Between Father and Son, LJ 1/00), Amis offers another portrait of the sometimes troubled, often poignant relationship between a writer son and his writer father. The younger Amis (The Information) chronicles father Kingsley s (Lucky Jim) drunken debauches, his parents marriage and subsequent remarriages, and the grimness of Kingsley s final days. But Amis also weaves into his narrative accounts of his own failed first marriage, relationships with his children, friendship with Saul Bellow, and coming to terms with the disappearance and death of his cousin. In addition, Amis details his well-publicized dental nightmares and his falling out with novelist Julian Barnes. Though passages describing his relationship with his father are very moving, the rest of the book descends into a sophomoric and sometimes self-important exercise in namedropping and name calling. The book will appeal to fans of father and son and is recommended for large libraries and libraries where the two are popular. Henry Carrigan, Lancaster, PA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
David Lodge
...a major literary event...The book is full of delectable humor at the author's expense, by which he avoids the danger that this kind of writing always courts, of seeming narcissistic, self-justifying and egocentric...There is a great deal of art in Experience, not only in the style, as you would expect from this writer...
Times Literary Supplement
Michiko Kakutani
...Amis' remarkable new memoir... Amis' most fully realized book yet -- a book that fuses his humor, intellect and daring with a new gravitas and warmth, a book that stands, at once, as a loving tribute to his father and as a fulfillment of his own abundant talents as a writer.
The New York Times
Joyce Hackett
Amis's portrait of a complex father-son relationship lit by floodlights is solidly real and well worth reading.
The National Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375726835
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/28/2001
  • Series: Vintage International Series
  • Edition description: 1 VINTAGE
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 272,598
  • Product dimensions: 5.18 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.09 (d)

Meet the Author

Martin Amis is the best-selling author of several books, including London Fields, Money, The Information, and, most recently, Experience. He lives in London.

Biography

The son of legendary English writer Kingley Amis, Martin Amis was born in Oxford in 1949 and attended a number of schools in Great Britain, Spain, and America. By his own admission he was a lackluster student. He spent much of his youth reading comic books, until his stepmother, the novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard, took him under her wing, introducing him to literature and encouraging him to study for university entrance. After months of furious cramming, he was accepted into Exeter College in Oxford, graduating with First Class Honors in English.

After graduation, Amis went to work as an editorial assistant at The Times Literary Supplement. In 1973, at the tender of age of 24, he published his award-winning debut novel, The Rachel Papers. Rife with the mordant black humor that would characterize all his fiction, this comic coming-of-age tale was a fitting debut for a career that would be fixated on sex, drugs, and the seamier aspects of modern culture. It also proved to be the first in a long string of bestsellers.

Amis is often grouped with the generation of British-based novelists that emerged during the 1980s and included Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, and Julian Barnes; but it is safe to say he has generated more controversy than his esteemed colleagues. No one feels neutral about Amis's novels. In a 1999 profile in Esquire, Sven Birkerts put it this way: "He is seen either as a cynically chugging bubble machine, way overrated for his hammy turns, or else as a dazzler, the next real thing."

In addition to his provocative fiction, Amis has grabbed more than his fair share of attention for antics off the page. Graced with youthful good looks, he enjoyed a reputation as a notorious womanizer (not unlike his famous father). Much photographed and buzzed about, he was dubbed early on the "enfant terrible" of English literature -- two parts writer, one part rock star. He attracted headlines like a magnet when he left his wife and children for a younger woman; when he fired his longtime literary agent, the wife of his good friend Julian Barnes; and when his new agent (unaffectionately nicknamed "the Jackal) secured for him an advance of 500,000 pounds, 20,000 pounds of which Amis spent on expensive American dental surgery.

Although reviewers are divided over Amis's long-range literary legacy, even his harshest critics begrudgingly acknowledge his stylistic genius, verbal agility, and biting, satirical wit. The novels for which he is best known (and most respected) comprise an informal trilogy: Money (1984), London Fields (1989), and The Information (1995). In addition, he has written short stories, essays, a nonfiction work on 20th-century communism, and an acclaimed memoir, Experience, detailing his relationship with his father, his writing career, and his convoluted family life. He also contributes regularly to newspapers, magazines, and journals.

Good To Know

Amis attended more than 13 schools while growing up in Great Britain, Spain and the United States.

He was named the "rock star of English literature" by the London Daily Telegraph in 1996.

Amis was profoundly shocked and grieved to discover that his long-lost, beloved cousin Lucy Partington, thought to have simply disappeared in 1973, had fallen victim to Fred West, one of England's most notorious serial killers.

In a much-publicized reunion in 1996, Amis met for the first time a young woman named Delilah Seale who was his daughter from a brief 1970s affair.

Amis has been influenced by several American novelists, including Philip Roth and John Updike, but none so profoundly as Saul Bellow, who became a mentor and something of a father figure.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Martin Louis Amis (full name)
    2. Hometown:
      Oxford, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      August 25, 1949
    2. Place of Birth:
      Oxford, England
    1. Education:
      B.A., Exeter College, Oxford

Read an Excerpt

Introductory: My Missing

— Dad.

This was my older son, Louis, then aged eleven.

— Yes?

My dad would have said, '... Yeeesss?' — with a dip in it, to signal mild but invariable irritation. I once asked him why he did this and he said, 'Well I'm already here, aren't I?' For him, the Dad-Yes? interlude was a clear redundancy, because we were in the same room together and established as having some kind of conversation, however desultory (and unenlivening, from his point of view). I saw what he meant; but five minutes later I would find myself saying, 'Dad.' And then I would brace myself for an especially vehement affirmative. I was a teenager before I broke the habit. Children need a beat of time, to secure attention while the thought is framed.

This is from I Like It Here (1958), Kingsley's third and most close-to-life novel:

'Dad.'

'Yes?'

'How big's the boat that's taking us to Portugal?'

'I don't know really. Pretty big, I should think.'

'As big as a killer whale?'

'What? Oh yes, easily.'

'As big as a blue whale?'

'Yes, of course, as big as any kind of whale.'

'Bigger?'

'Yes, much bigger.'

'How much bigger?'

'Never you mind how much bigger. Just bigger is all I can tell you.'

There is a break, and the discussion resumes:

... 'Dad.'

'Yes?'

'If two tigers jumped on a blue whale, could they kill it?'

'Ah, but that couldn't happen, you see. If the whale was in the sea the tigers would drown straight away, and if the whale was ...'

'But supposing they did jump on the whale?'

... 'Oh, God. Well, I suppose the tigers'd kill the whale eventually, but it'd take a long time.'

'How long would it take one tiger?'

'Even longer. Now I'm not answering any more questions about whales or tigers.'

'Dad.'

'Oh, what is it now, David?'

'If two sea-serpents ...'

How well I remember those vastly stimulating chats. My tigers weren't just ordinary tigers, either: they were sabre-toothed tigers. And the gladiatorial bouts I dreamed up were far more elaborate than I Like It Here allows. If two boa constrictors, four barracuda, three anacondas and a giant squid ... I must have been five or six at the time.

In retrospect I can see that these questions would have played on my father's deepest fears. Kingsley, who refused to drive and refused to fly, who couldn't easily be alone in a bus, a train or a lift (or in a house, after dark), wasn't exactly keen on boats — or sea-serpents. Besides, he didn't want to go to Portugal, or anywhere else. The trip was forced on him by the terms and conditions of the Somerset Maugham Award — a 'deportation order' he called it in a letter to Philip Larkin ('forced to go abroad, bloody forced mun'). He won the prize for his first novel, Lucky Jim, published in 1954. Twenty years later I would win it too.

The Rachel Papers appeared in mid-November, 1973. On the night of 27 December my cousin, Lucy Partington, who was staying with her mother in Gloucestershire, was driven into Cheltenham to visit an old friend, Helen Render. Lucy and Helen spent the evening talking about their future; they put together a letter of application to the Courtauld Institute in London, where Lucy hoped to continue studying medieval art. They parted at 10.15. It was a three-minute walk to the bus stop. She never posted the letter and she never boarded the bus. She was twenty-one. And it was another twenty-one years before the world found out what happened to her.

— Dad.

— Yes?

Louis and I were in the car — the locus of so many parental dealings, after a while, when the Chauffeuring Years begin to stretch out ahead of you like an autobahn.

— If nothing else was changed by you not being famous, would you still want to be famous?

A well-executed question, I thought. He knew that fame was a necessary by-product of acquiring a readership. But apart from that? What? Fame is a worthless commodity. It will occasionally earn you some special treatment, if that is what you're interested in getting. It will also earn you a far more noticeable amount of hostile curiosity. I don't mind that — but then I'm a special case. What tends to single me out for it also tends to inure me to it. In a word — Kingsley.

— I don't think so, I answered.

— Why?

— Because it messes with the head.

And he took this in, nodding.

*
• *

It used to be said that everyone had a novel in them. And I used to believe it, and still do in a way. If you're a novelist you must believe it, because that's part of your job: much of the time you are writing the fiction that other people have in them. Just now, though, in 1999, you would probably be obliged to doubt the basic proposition: what everyone has in them, these days, is not a novel but a memoir.

We live in the age of mass loquacity. We are all writing it or at any rate talking it: the memoir, the apologia, the c.v., the cri de coeur. Nothing, for now, can compete with experience — so unanswerably authentic, and so liberally and democratically dispensed. Experience is the only thing we share equally, and everyone senses this. We are surrounded by special cases, by special pleadings, in an atmosphere of universal celebrity. I am a novelist, trained to use experience for other ends. 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. This will involve me in the indulgence of certain bad habits. Namedropping is unavoidably one of them. But I've been indulging that habit, in a way, ever since I first said, 'Dad.'

I do it because I feel the same stirrings that everyone else feels. I want to set the record straight (so much of this is already public), and to speak, for once, without artifice. Though not without formality. The trouble with life (the novelist will feel) is its amorphousness, its ridiculous fluidity. Look at it: thinly plotted, largely themeless, sentimental and ineluctably trite. The dialogue is poor, or at least violently uneven. The twists are either predictable or sensationalist. And it's always the same beginning; and the same ending ... My organisational principles, therefore, derive from an inner urgency, and from the novelist's addiction to seeing parallels and making connections. The method, plus the use of footnotes (to preserve the collateral thought), should give a clear view of the geography of a writer's mind. If the effect sometimes seems staccato, tangential, stop-go, etc., then I can only say that that's what it's like, on my side of the desk.

And I do it because it has been forced on me. I have seen what perhaps no writer should ever see: the place in the unconscious where my novels come from. I couldn't have stumbled on it unassisted. Nor did I. I read about it in the newspaper ...

Someone is no longer here. The intercessionary figure, the father, the man who stands between the son and death, is no longer here; and it won't ever be the same. He is missing. But I know it is common; all that lives must die, passing through nature to eternity. My father lost his father, and my children will lose theirs, and their children (this is immensely onerous to contemplate) will lose theirs.

On the shelf by my desk I have a small double-sided picture-stand which contains two photographs. One is black-and-white and of passport size: it shows a teenage schoolgirl in a V-necked sweater, shirtsleeves and tie. Long brown hair parted at the centre, spectacles, the beginnings of a smile. Above her head she has written, in block capitals: undesirable alien. This is Lucy Partington ... The second photograph is in colour: it shows a toddler in a dark flower dress, smocked at the chest, with short puffed sleeves and pink trim. She has fine blonde hair. Her smile is demure: pleased, but quietly pleased.

This is Delilah Seale.

The photographs are kept together, and for almost twenty years their subjects lived together in the back of my mind. Because these are, or were, my missing.

Letter from School

Sussex Tutors,
55 Marine Parade,
Brighton, Sussex.
23rd Oct. [1967]

Dearest Dad and Jane,

Thanks awfully for your letter. So we all appear to be working like fucking fools. I seem to be flitting manically from brash self-confidence to whimpering depression; the English is all very fine, but the Latin I find difficult, tedious, and elaborately unrewarding. It would be so boring if it buggered up my Oxford Entrance paper. I spend about 2-3 hours per day on it, but I feel a painful lack of basic knowledge — not being one of those little sods who has been chanting 'amo, amas, amat', from the age of eighteen months. Anyway, the set book (Aeneid Bk. II) is pretty splendid, and if I slog through that with sufficient rigour I should be O.K. on that part of the 'O' level paper.

Mr Ardagh decided that the best plan for Ox. Ent. is to choose about 6 chaps and know them pretty thoroughly, rather than farting about with a bit of everyone. I have chosen: Shakespeare; Donne and Marvell, Coleridge and Keats; Jane Austen; [Wilfred] Owen; Greene; and possibly old Yeats as well. I do enjoy the English but I must say that I get periods of desperately wanting something else to occupy myself with. The prospect of teaching has lost its glow because it means that I will be dealing with the same sort of thing for the next 4 years without much of a break. I hope you don't think I'm off the idea of Eng. Lit., because I find myself suffused with an ardour for sheer quantity of consumption. In my last few days in London I read 'Middlemarch' (in 3 days), 'The Trial' (Kafka is a fucking fool — in 1 day) and 'The Heart of the Matter' (in 1 day), and even here I manage a couple of novels a week (plus lots of poetry). Its [sic] just that I'm a bit cheesed off with applying myself to the same ideas all the time — but I shouldn't think its [sic] anything that a paternal — or step-maternal — harangue won't correct. I'm sorry to be a bore, and it's probably merely a phase — might even be character-building, who knows.

I thought it very representative of your integrity, Jane, to warn me of the defficiencies [sic] of Nashville. Much as I'd love to see you both, it does seem that I'll be doing too much fire-ironing and pie-fingering (I'm sure Jane could adapt that to one of her swirling mixed metaphors), to be able to get away for a full 2-3 weeks. I might have an interview at Oxford as late as the 20th of Dec. and various replies could start coming in as early as Jan 1st. This, coupled with the dire deterrent of U.S. T.V. being lousy, will, I fear, prevent me from coming over. It is a pity because I would dearly love to see you both.

I see young Bruce pretty regularly, but not regularly enough, it seems, for him to contrive to secure adequate stocks of fish-cakes for my visits. However he seems in fine form ... Predictably enough the very word is like a bell to toll me back to Latin Unseens, prose constructions, and like trivia.

Please write soon, I miss you both terribly,
All my love,
Mart x x x

P.S. Convey my cordial regards to Karen — there are no doleful regrets there because, as far as I can remember, she should be about 9' 6" tall by now.

P.P.S. On [sic] retrospect I consider 'Middlemarch' to be FUCKING good - Jane Austen + passion + dimension. Very fine. Love Mart.

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Table of Contents

Part One: Unawakened
Introductory: My Missing 3
Rank 12
Women and Love — 1 22
Learning About Time 39
Bus Stop: 1994 58
The Hands of Mike Szabatura 76
Failures of Tolerance 89
Him Who Is, Him Who Was! 110
The City and the Village 128
The Problem of Reentry 152
Permanent Soul 175
Existence Still Is the Job 195
Women and Love — 2 214
Feasts of Friends 234
Thinking with the Blood 252
Part Two: The Main Events
1: Delilah Seale 275
2: One Little More Hug 283
3: The Magics 356
Postscript: Poland, 1995 367
Appendix: The Biographer and the Fourth Estate 372
Addendum: Letter to my Aunt 383
Index 387
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First Chapter

My Missing
"Dad."
This was my older son, Louis, then aged 11.
"Yes?"

My dad would have said, "Yeeess?" with a dip in it, to signal mild but invariable irritation. I once asked him why he did this and he said, "Well, I'm already here, aren't I?" For him, the Dad-Yes? interlude was a clear redundancy, because we were in the same room together and established as having some kind of conversation, however desultory (and unenlivening, from his point of view). I saw what he meant, but five minutes later I would find myself saying, "Dad." And then I would brace myself for an especially vehement affirmative. I was a teenager before I broke the habit. Children need a beat of time, to secure attention while the thought is framed. This is from I Like It Here (1958), Kingsley's third and most close-to-life novel:
"Dad."
"Yes?"
"How big's the boat that's taking us to Portugal?"
"I don't know really. Pretty big, I should think."
"As big as a killer whale?"
"What? Oh yes, easily."
"As big as a blue whale?"
"Yes, of course, as big as any kind of whale."
"Bigger?"
"Yes, much bigger."
"How much bigger?"
"Never you mind how much bigger. Just bigger is all I can tell you."
There is a break, and the discussion resumes:
"Dad."
"Yes?"
"If two tigers jumped on a blue whale, could they kill it?"
"Ah, but that couldn't happen, you see. If the whale was in the sea the
tigers would drown straight away, and if the whale was "
"But supposing they did jump on the whale?"
"Oh God. Well, I suppose the tigers'd kill the whale eventually, but it'd take a long time."
"How long would it take one tiger?"
"Even longer. Now I'm not answering any more questions about whales or tigers."
"Dad."
"Oh, what is it now, David?"
"If two sea serpents"
How well I remember those vastly stimulating chats. My tigers weren't just ordinary tigers, either: They were saber-toothed tigers. And the gladiatorial bouts I dreamed up were far more elaborate than I Like It Here allows. If two boa constrictors, four barracuda, three anacondas, and a giant squid I must have been five or six at the time.
In retrospect I can see that these questions would have played on my father's deepest fears. Kingsley, who refused to drive and refused to fly, who couldn't easily be alone in a bus, a train, or a lift (or in a house, after dark), wasn't exactly keen on boats or sea serpents. Besides, he didn't want to go to Portugal or anywhere else. The trip was forced on him by the terms and conditions of the Somerset Maugham Award a "deportation order" he called it in a letter to Philip Larkin ("forced to go abroad, bloody forced mun"). He had won the prize for his first novel, Lucky Jim, published in 1954. Twenty years later, I would win it too.
The Rachel Papers appeared in mid-November, 1973. On the night of December 27 my cousin, Lucy Partington, who was staying with her mother in Gloucestershire, was driven into Cheltenham to visit an old friend, Helen Render. Lucy and Helen spent the evening talking about their future; they put together a letter of application to the Courtauld Institute in London, where Lucy hoped to continue studying medieval art. They parted at 10:15. It was a three-minute walk to the bus stop. She never posted the letter and she never boarded the bus. She was 21. And it was another 21 years before the world found out what happened to her.

It used to be said that everyone had a novel in them. And I used to believe it, and still do in a way. If you're a novelist you must believe it, because that's part of your job: Much of the time you are writing the fiction that other people have in them. Just now, though, in 2000, you would probably be obliged to doubt the basic proposition: What everyone has in them these days is not a novel but a memoir.
We live in the age of mass loquacity. We are all writing it or at any rate talking it: the memoir, the apologia, the CV, the cri de coeur. Nothing, for now, can compete with experience so unanswerably authentic, and so liberally and democratically dispensed. Experience is the only thing we share equally, and everyone senses this. We are surrounded by special cases, by special pleadings, in an atmosphere of universal celebrity. I am a novelist, trained to use experience for other ends. 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 that is also just another instance of a father and a son. This will involve me in the indulgence of certain bad habits. Name-dropping is unavoidably one of them. But I've been indulging that habit, in a way, ever since I first said, "Dad."
I do it because I feel the same stirrings that everyone else feels. I want to set the record straight (so much of this is already public) and to speak, for once, without artifice. Though not without formality. The trouble with life (the novelist will feel) is its amorphousness, its ridiculous fluidity. Look at it: thinly plotted, largely themeless, sentimental, and ineluctably trite. The dialogue is poor, or at least violently uneven. The twists are either predictable or sensationalist. And it's always the same beginning, and the same ending. My organizational principles, therefore, derive from an inner urgency and from the novelist's addiction to seeing parallels and making connections. The method, plus the use of footnotes (to preserve the collateral thought), should give a clear view of the geography of a writer's mind. If the effect sometimes seems staccato, tangential, stop-go, etc., then I only say that that's what it's like on my side of the desk. And I do it because it has been forced on me. I have seen what perhaps no writer should ever see: the place in the unconscious where my novels come from. I couldn't have stumbled on it unassisted. Nor did I. I read about it in the newspaper.

Someone is no longer here. The intercessionary figure, the father, the man who stands between the son and death, is no longer here, and it won't ever be the same. He is missing. But I know it is common; all that lives must die, passing through nature to eternity. My father lost his father, and my children will lose theirs, and their children (this is immensely onerous to contemplate) will lose theirs.
On the shelf by my desk I have a small double-sided picture stand which contains two photographs. One is black-and-white and of passport size; it shows a teenage schoolgirl in a V-necked sweater, shirtsleeves, and tie. Long brown hair parted at the center, spectacles, the beginnings of a smile. Above her head she has written, in block capitals: undesirable alien. This is Lucy Partington. The second photograph is in color: It shows a toddler in a dark flowered dress, smocked at the chest, with short puffed sleeves and pink trim. She has fine blond hair. Her smile is demure: pleased, but quietly pleased. This is Delilah Seale.
The photographs are kept together, and for almost 20 years their subjects lived together in the back of my mind. Because these are, or were, my missing.

"What's so funny?"
"I've just come to the bit about masturbation."
The year is now 1995, and I am lying, for a brief moment, on a patch of grass in a London park, looking again at Kingsley's Memoirs, while my sons, perched on RollerBlades, totter past and now pause.
"And?"
"When Kingsley was your age his father told him that it 'thinned the blood and the victim eventually fell into helpless insanity.'"
"Did he?"
"Yes. And by the way, it doesn't."
"Good."
That was the only sex tip ("which he topped up every so often") Kingsley ever got from William Robert Amis. And "before you start grinning, reader, if that's what you feel like doing," K.A. goes on, "a chum told me how at his school each class as it approached puberty was taken on a little tour of the supposed masturbation-mania ward of the local mental hospital," where real schizophrenics and manic-depressives were passed off as average veterans of self-abuse. My father claims, in his memoir, that he was "sensible enough" not to believe such warnings, and I think he really did survive the prevailing conspiracy of hypocritical deception and menace, a phenomenon that today we can only interpret as hatred of youth. Or maybe the whole thing was an awful game played by disappointed mediocrities, my grandfather somehow persuading himself that if he had "left himself alone" in his youth he might have aspired to more than a senior clerkship in the City, and of course he would be wanting better for his boy. It seems fair to say that the relationship between father and son never recovered from the former's aggressive mystification of sexual matters. It wasn't that Kingsley needed hard information on the birds and the bees. "Sex instruction in the home," as he says, "is not instruction but a formal permit" and "it must be given."
Kingsley would go on to tell the following birds-and-bees joke to his sons, and I would duly pass it on to mine: The farmer's wife says to the farmer, "The time has come for you to tell our George about the birds and the bees." The farmer drags his feet: "Ah come on, love. I mean, it's a bit embarrassing for a bloke" But finally he accedes. The hot afternoon, father and son alone in the glade, the twisting coils of birdsong, the murmur of innumerable bees. "George. The time has come for your dad to tell you about the birds and the bees." "Yes, Dad." "You know what you and me did to them girls in the ditch last Friday night?" "Yes, Dad." "Well the birds and the bees do it too." My opinion of this joke, as a joke, fluctuates, I find. But I won't forget my younger boy's response to it: a full three seconds of stunned assimilation before his first voluptuous shriek.
In 1943, by which point Kingsley was a 21-year-old Oxford undergraduate and a lieutenant in the army, William discovered that his son was having an affair with a married woman. It is depressing work, trying to imagine the "explosion" this caused in the Amises' straitened suburban cottage. And five years later came William's prideful boycott of the wedding of my parents. On that occasion Mummy A., Rosa (in my memory she is just a dark presence, richly embroidered, aromatic, calorific), managed to talk him down. But she herself was hardly a free spirit scowling over the garden wall, for instance, when a neighbor used the word "honeymoon" in front of her child, who was then 14. In general, William and Rosa couldn't have "restricted my choice of friends," Kingsley writes, "or my chances of seeing them, more unflaggingly if there had been a long family history of male prostitution or juvenile dipsomania." My father loved his mother without much complication, as things turned out, but I never saw him altogether easy in the company of my grandfather.
Whom I remember as a sallowly handsome man, and conventionally dapper though the sallowness may be just a back-formation from my memory of his last hours, when he glowed dull orange with jaundice. He spent a good part of his widowerhood (1957ñ1963) as a member of our household to Kingsley's vast inconvenience, I now realize and a considerable fraction of that time keenly and inventively and rather sternly playing with my brother and me. I admit without reservation that he was one of the grand passions of my childhood so much so that he once reduced me to a tantrum of misery when he found himself maintaining that it was "natural" to have "more feeling as a grandfather" for the first-born son. As far as I was concerned it wasn't a question of what was natural. This was a question of love: of insufficiently requited love. He tried to soften it but he wouldn't unsay it; he wouldn't bend to the severity of my distress. After the year in America he grew restive and moved back to London. And on his frequent and still yearned-for visits he would puzzlingly bring along a garish and garrulous lady friend.
Then it ended. I mean love ended: my love. I didn't feel it leave, but I remember the instant when I knew it to be gone. All that day in Cambridge my mother had been putting it about that a secret treat awaited me: a treat of the first echelon. Late in the afternoon we drove to a mystery destination (in fact Peterhouse, my father's college), and there at the gates stood the suddenly and hopelessly and utterly inadequate figure of Daddy A. I missed only half a beat before I leapt out of the car and embraced him. But in that single pulse of time I experienced a physical thud of disappointment and surprise. Daddy A. used to be a treat of the first echelon. He just wasn't any longer. I was 13, unlucky 13, and grandparents, when you are 13, are (alas) among the childish things you have to put aside. A year later he died, of cancer, a couple of months before Kingsley left and Cambridge turned into a morgue of dead or departing animals. My brother Philip and I were taken to the nearby nursing home for what was clearly a final visit. I am glad, now, that I was out of love. The awful rictus of his attempted smile, the eyes bright against the kippering jaundice, like a backlit pumpkin on Halloween. In private my brother and I were nervously callous about the experience about Gramps. Or about death. Perhaps, too, my young heart still hurt from that day when I felt my love was scorned.
And when I felt, moreover, the fantastic obduracy of the man. He tried to soften it but he wouldn't unsay it. He wouldn't bend. He wouldn't tell a salutary white lie to calm a sobbing, squealing, supplicating child. "You're like Kingsley," I said to my son (the elder) as I drove him somewhere or other in the car. I continued, "You're one of those people who can never admit they're wrong."
"Yes, and you're one of those people too."

Lucy Partington
At certain times, for certain periods, my cousin David was able to persuade himself that his sister Lucy was still alive alive, but elsewhere. Naturally all the Partingtons attempted something of the kind. My mother, too, attempted it. I attempted it. Lucy was serious, resolute, artistic, musical, and religious. Even when we were children the message I always took away from Lucy was that she wasn't going to be deflected, she wasn't going to be deterred. Only with difficulty could you imagine her having the inclination to vanish, but it was the work of a moment to imagine her having the will. So she was in a nunnery, somewhere; she was a violinist in Melbourne, a pseudonymous poet in Montreal. Of course, these reveries kept running up against an obstacle: the fact that Lucy was gentle, was kind, was sane. To which the one available rejoinder would be: Well, I must have been wrong about that, and I suppose it can deeply surprise you, the people who turn out to be prepared to disseminate hurt. Thus the argument continued (very faintly after a while, and then almost inaudibly, given my distance from the event) for 21 years.
It was David who had driven Lucy into Cheltenham on December 27, 1973. "I could so easily have driven her back. I offered to." But Lucy had decided to take the bus; and there was no point in arguing with her about a thing like that.
"If I had insisted"
"You could go on forever," I said, "with this chain of ifs."
David was one of the great requited loves of my childhood. We see each other seldom, now, in our ponderous adult guise, but the connection remains more than cousinly. My brother is of course irreplaceable, and so is my half-brother, Jaime. But for much of my childhood I earnestly wanted David to be my brother, and he wanted it too, and the affinity is still there. When I was writing the novel London Fields I faced the minor task of thinking of a name for the narrator's brother: It took me about a second to come up with "David." (The character was Jewish and, I now notice, died young.)
This meeting with David Partington took place on October 31, 1997: Halloween. Lucy's fate had been public knowledge since March 1994 no, more than public. Along with those of the other victims, Lucy's fate was national knowledge: part of something that all citizens felt themselves duty-bound to have in common. And from that time David would need to nerve himself to open a newspaper. Because it was all ready to begin again: waking in the middle of the night and getting up to sit for hours weeping and swearing. This was his condition on the day after the disappearance. "Lucy didn't come home last night." There was nobody in her room, and the made bed had not been slept in. There was certainty of disaster. And there was my poor cousin (I hate thinking about this), out in the courtyard, crying and raising his clenched fists and saying, "If anyone has done anything to her"
Weeping and swearing, cursing and sobbing: There ought to be a word for that. In November 1918, the news of the Armistice inspired Siegfried Sassoon to claim, "And I was filled with such delight/As prisoned birds must find in freedom"
Robert Graves felt differently: "The news sent me out walking along the dike about the marshes of Rhuddlan [an ancient battlefield, the Flodden of Wales], cursing and sobbing and thinking of the dead." Cursing and sobbing and thinking of the dead: There ought to be a word for that. "Grieving" won't quite serve. This is something anterior. It is, I think, not a struggle to accept but a struggle to believe.
"As you drove into town.
Do you remember what you talked about?"
"I was trying to justify my current girlfriend, who was you know, sexy but thick. Lucy was being very accommodating. Not at all critical. But I still felt I had to justify myself."
"Six years after she disappeared remember? When we talked about it. You were saying that you wanted to avenge her. With your own hands. Do you still?" "No. But now or at any other stage I would give up my life so that Lucy could have hers. Because my life is and hers"
"I understand. But don't be hard on yourself. I think you're a paragon." "Me?"
Later there was a silence as we followed a line of thought: the same line of thought. On the night of December 27, 1973, Lucy Partington was abducted by one of the most prolific murderers in British history, Frederick West. We knew what had happened to her after death. She was decapitated and dismembered, and her remains were crammed into a shaft between leaking sewage pipes, along with a knife, a rope, a section of masking tape, and two hairgrips. But the terrible imponderable was what had happened to her when she was still alive. Records showed that just after midnight on the morning of January 3, 1974, West appeared at the casualty department of Gloucester Royal Hospital with a serious laceration to the right hand. "It seems only too possible that she was kept alive for several days," writes one commentator. And yet the evidence remains entirely circumstantial. "It is possible," writes another, "that [West's] wound occurred as a result of the dismemberment of a corpse, but it is just as possible that it did not, which is the inference I should prefer the family to make."
I said, "I've read all the books, and there's no"
David veered back from this, just an inch or two, as if shocked that I had survived exposure to something that for him was so much more thoroughly steeped in revulsion. The books: I was assiduous in hiding them in a cupboard when, a couple of months later, my cousin came to spend the night. Well, the books are what they are, but they had given me something I needed David to hear.
"I've read all the books, and there's no hard evidence that it wasn't all over there and then at the bus stop."
And I added, hoping to give comfort (but why would this give comfort?), "Lucy was just very unlucky, David. Your sister was just incredibly unlucky."
More than a hundred had been there the day of her memorial service. This was Elizabeth Webster, a teacher at the Arts Centre: "She came to see me when she was at Exeter, just before the last year, and I said to her, 'Now that you are grown up what are you going to do?' and she said, 'I don't mind what I do as long as I do it absolutely to the hilt,' and I said, 'Yes, that's fine, but where are you going?' and she thought awfully hard and said, 'Towards the light Towards the light.'"
Of all who were there that day, their differing degrees of pain went back 20 years and would continue for another 20, 40, 60. And that hundred each knew another hundred who sympathized, who worried and winced. And my cousin was not the only victim but one of 11, or perhaps 13, or perhaps more. The murderer, in a sense, presides over this little universe, with all its points and circles, but of course there is no place for him within it. He caused it, but he is not of it.
My family cannot understand the extraordinary collision that allowed him to touch our lives, and I have no wish to prolong the contact. But he is here now, in my head; I want him exorcised. And Frederick West is uncontrollable: He is uncontrollable. For now he will get from me a one-sentence verdict and I will get from him a single detail. Here is the sentence. West was a sordid inadequate who was trained by his childhood to addict himself to the moment when impotence became prepotence.
Two months earlier, in May 1994, Marian Partington had traveled to Cardiff with two close friends. She went to bless her sister's bones: "I lifted her skull with great care and tenderness. I marveled at the sense of recognition in its curves and proportion. I wrapped it, like I have wrapped my babies, in Lucy's 'soft brown blanket,' her snuggler. I pressed her to my heart."
And when, late in 1995, Frederick West's interrogation tapes were played, and his version of events appeared, unchallenged, in the press, Marian campaigned, and won a public rebuttal. This is a rebuttal, I think, that I must confirm, solidify, and perpetuate. Because otherwise these things are lost, lost in the daily smudge of newsprint, and I never again want to hear anyone ask me how Lucy Partington got "drawn into" West's orbit.
West said he killed my cousin because she wanted him to go and meet her parents. He and Lucy were having an affair ("purely sex, end of story"), and Lucy, now pregnant, had "come the loving racket" and "said I wanna come and live with you and all this crap, and I just grabbed her by the throat." "[H]er wanted me to see her parents, her wanted me to do bloody everything." That is what it said, in the press, unchallenged. I rebut it.

Delilah Seale
I felt it was important to tell the story in the simplest possible terms. My interlocutors, after all, were aged 11 and 10: number one son, Louis, and number two son, Jacob. For the occasion I had taken the boys to a Chinese restaurant called the Spice Market, prized by them at the time for its serve-yourself and all-you-can-eat facilities plus its powerfully sizzling Mongolian grill. What I was about to reveal to them was a family matter, a private matter, but I knew it couldn't remain private. There was a feeling among my intimates that I should wait, that "the boys weren't ready" for the news. But it seemed to me that I didn't have a choice. To give the emphasis: My free will was being compromised. The Fourth Estate wasn't going to care whether or not the boys were ready. Over and above this, though, I thought that the boys were ready, had always been ready. I trusted the morality of my sons.
"There was once a little girl," I said.
I said, "I'm going to tell a story. There was once a little girl called Delilah. She had a brother and a mother and a father. When she was two years old her mother died. Her mother killed herself. She hanged herself. Delilah grew up with her brother, raised by her father, who remarried. Then when she was 18 it was revealed that her father wasn't her real father. And so suddenly it seemed that she had no parents at all." Louis and Jacob spoke in one voice. They had a habit, that night, of speaking in one voice.
"Poor her," they said.
"Well, boys, the real father
is me."
"Good," they said.
And we talked on.
Good, good it seemed good.

The meeting was set for seven o'clock in the bar of a Knightsbridge hotel called the Rembrandt. A potent name and a challenging spirit, for students of the human face, and very soon two human faces would be opposed, as in a mirror, each addressing the other with unprecedented curiosity. I arrived 20 minutes early, accompanied by my future wife, Isabel. My hands were shaking. They always shake, my hands, but that evening they felt quite disconnected from me. A cup and saucer would sound like a pair of castanets in my grip; an iced drink would become a maraca. We sat on a sofa among lamps and low tables, doilies, antimacassars. I watched the door. She knew what I looked like. And I knew that she was 18 and would arrive on the very stroke of the hour.
This time the day before, in the same bar of the same hotel, I had had a long conversation with Delilah's father, or cofather, Patrick Seale (a figure of well-established versatility: literary agent, art dealer, foreign correspondent, and Middle East specialist). He was the author of several books; he was also the author of the letter in my jacket pocket. On this occasion his manner, like his letter, was impeccably straightforward. Patrick told me that his original plan had been to tell Delilah everything when she turned 21. Family politics had intervened (there was the stepmother, and two further children), and now Delilah knew. She had known for some months. And how had she reacted? Patrick described a process that began in grief and had since moved on toward something more resilient. In his superevolved fashion he had given Delilah a box of my books (a kind of kit) plus a videocassette of an hour-long interview. I would be coming at her partly as a mediated being, mediated by myself and others: Delilah would presumably be aware that I had abandoned my sons to go and live with an heiress in New York, the better to squander my advances on a Liberace smile. But this was a secondary or tertiary matter. At the moment of revelation she must have been wholly indifferent to my identity (and never mind its carapace). When I tried to imagine it I saw her aswim in a panic of lost connection. The connection with her father, her brother seemed lost, but it wasn't. And here was another connection waiting to be made. I thought, too, of the courage she would need on this summer evening as she mounted the steps and opened the door.
She entered.
"It's you," said Isabel.
Then hugs and kisses for the girl with my face.
On the telephone the next day Patrick and I had a conversation of surrealistic urbanity. It felt likely that these sentences had never been heard before.
I congratulated him on his daughter. And he congratulated me on mine. "Poor her," said the boys, in one voice, when they heard her story. "Good," they said, when I told them who the father was. "I'm very pleased and proud that you've taken it this way." And very relieved, I might have added but I don't think I felt any relief, because I don't think I felt any doubt. And again the eerie unison, with the frowning duo saying, "Why would we not?" Yes, exactly. Why would you not? And when a day or two afterwards Delilah came to dinner for the first time, the boys leapt to the sound of the buzzer and ran upstairs to open the door and let her in.
In his essay on The Old Curiosity Shop G.K. Chesterton talks about the kind of criticism or commentary that makes a writer "jump out of his boots." Such an occurrence is vanishingly rare. Nine out of 10 writers, I imagine, get through life without once experiencing it. But it does happen, and it happened to me. In the Sunday Observer the novelist Maureen Freely staged a straightforward retrospective of my fiction and noted the punctual arrival just in time for my third novel, Success (1978) of a stream of lost or wandering daughters and putative or fugitive fathers, and that these figures recurred, with variations, in every subsequent book. There was nothing I could do about this diagnosis. It chimed with something Patrick had said during our first talk on the telephone: "I expect it's been in the back of your mind." Yes, exactly: in the back of my mind. Your writing comes from the back of your mind, where thoughts are unformulated and anxiety is silent. That's where it comes from: silent anxiety. I felt there was something almost embarrassing about the neatness and obviousness of the Freely interpretation. But it also sharply consoled me, because it meant that I had been with Delilah in spirit far more than I knew. It consoled me because Delilah's mother, Lamorna, had hanged herself in 1978.
I find I have written a great deal about and around suicide. Suicide, the most somber of all subjects the saddest story. It awakens terror and pity in me, yet it compels me, it compels my writing hand. Perhaps because what I do all day and what they do, the suicides, in an instant, are so close to being antithetical. Chesterton (again) said that suicide was a heavier undertaking than murder. The murderer kills just one person. The suicide kills everybody.
Suicide is omnicide. But it's not in me to pass any judgment on it. It escapes morality. Throughout history suicide has been arduously detaching itself from human censure: the curses and penalties, the rock-heaped graves in unsanctified ground, the defiled cadavers. Why drive a stake through their hearts when, as Joyce knew, their hearts have been broken already? In the novel Night Train I had my woman narrator make the following observation: "It used to be said, not so long ago, that every suicide gave Satan special pleasure. I don't think that's true unless it isn't true either that the Devil is a gentleman." But the Devil is not a gentleman. The gentle do come to grief. And when Satan in Paradise Lost sets out from Pandemonium (abode of all demons), this was his mission: "to waste His whole creation,"

To confound the race
Of mankind in one root, and earth with hell
To mingle and involve


Suicides, too, are world-killers; they are, in that critical moment, everyman and everywoman. But no blame attaches. If what she was suffering had been endurable, then she would have endured. Delilah was a two-year-old standing on the stairs. Her older brother Orlando, who led the way, could see the hanging body. And it was Patrick who had to go in and "take her down." That void world up there is, of course, the central fact behind Delilah's origin and evolution, and not the little mystery of the lost-found father, which is good, good, only good. No mother, but more than one father, now and much else. It does go on. When the revelation came Delilah forfeited technical consanguinity with her half-brother and half-sister. But there were two more, a half-brother and another half-brother, waiting, like a team, just as they wait for the sound of the buzzer and then run upstairs to let her in. "What do you think, Mum?" I said, as she snatched the photograph from my hand.
"Definitely."
"What should I do?"
"Nothing. Don't do anything, dear."
I had always wanted a girl and suddenly there she was, in the Rembrandt, like a mirror. For 17 years I had been worrying about her, in the back of my mind. Time, thus affronted (I thought), would give us work to do, but it hasn't been like that. Love flowed (and was soon declared). And now she and I can say the words in unison: Why would it not?

Failures of Tolerance
Jacob, aged six, said reflectively, "I've never seen Kingsley move." "What do you mean?"
"I don't think I've ever once seen Kingsley move."
"Move?"
"Move."
"Bullshit. Every time we have lunch there he moves. He goes to the toilet at least once."
"That's true," Jacob allowed.
"And what about the time you knighted him? He moved then, didn't he?"
"That's true."
Kingsley had said nothing about his knighthood and was no doubt planning to announce it at dinner: He was expected at 7. But the news had come through on the radio, and we were ready for him. It was 1990. My life, around then, now seems surreally uncomplicated. I had married late. I was 40 and living with my wife and two sons (six and four) in a tall narrow house off Ladbroke Grove. The long novel London Fields lay behind me; the short novel Time's Arrow lay ahead of me. My father came to dinner one night every week.
The bell rang on the stroke of seven for Kingsley was a man of Naipaulian punctuality. I let the door swing open to reveal the boys, promiscuously accoutered in various plastic breastplates, gauntlets, and Viking moose antlers, and slowly raising their gray plastic swords. In silence Kingsley went down on one knee (no trivial undertaking), there on the doormat, and the boys, also silent, and unblinking, dubbed him in turn with a touch of the blade on either shoulder.
A minute later Kingsley was being led downstairs by my first wife Antonia for his first drink: chilled gin and cocktail onions. Jacob followed, still with some show of pomp (a raised spear, perhaps), but Louis lingered, impatiently throwing off the thighpieces, the shinguards. This stuff had come out of a very old trunk. Even the boys had had to dig back deep for it. "Why is he a Sir?"
"Why?"
"Because they don't need
knights anymore. There's nothing for them to do."
I was delighted for my father (he would have his visit to the Palace, and his tender, dream-fueling moment with the queen), but I must admit that I agreed with my son.
At the time I automatically assumed that Kingsley was fiercely gratified by his knighthood, but I can remember little evidence of that now. When writers crave honors, they usually crave them very thoroughly: One hears of novelists who can name the cats and dogs of every bureaucrat in Stockholm. He never talked about the knighthood (and we never talked about prizes, or advances, or sales). And once, when I brought up the example of Ferdinand Mount, who had effectively dispensed with his title as an encumbrance and a thing of the past, Kingsley just shrugged and nodded. It wasn't too little but it was too late. I hope he got some pleasure out of it in his last five years. Becoming a Sir must have satisfied any vestigial aspirations formed by his upbringing (lower-middle-class, lapsed Baptist, work ethic), and surely must have silenced forever the sound of his father's voice, which never quite stopped saying, "This writing game is all very fine and large, but one day, you know, you'll have to pull yourself together and get a proper" The newly elevated Kingsley probably walked that much taller at his club. And at last he could hold his head up at home, in the ménage he maintained with my stepfather (Lord Kilmarnock) and my mother (Lady Kilmarnock). It was only because of a technicality that the teenage Jaime remained untitled: He was born out of wedlock and so had to struggle on without his honorary "Honourable."
Edward Upward said that he felt the aging process at work in him when he experienced "little failures of tolerance." Well, Kingsley was never much of a tolerance-cultivator and his failures were big failures. As his sixties settled on him, as heavy as a bathoscope, and as his seventies loomed, my father underwent a fluctuating series of inner ravages. His articulation was sometimes amorphous; he tilted himself, with that inconvenienced grimace of his, like a smile of pain, and pointed his good ear toward you; he had lost all trust and ease in his body (he would book a cab for a journey of a hundred yards: His legs hurt). Kingsley never mentioned these cerebral ruptures and blockages, these little coups de vieux, and you weren't supposed to mention (or notice) them, either. When they happened they had the tendency of making him turn away from the world. To him, at 68, in certain moods, revealed creation looked worthless: And, therefore (because he trusted his instinct and thought himself never wrong), it was worthless and could be wholly repudiated. In a completely central way Kingsley always declined to make allowances, for himself or for anybody else.

My father didn't expect us not to notice that his weight had practically doubled over the past few years. When I was 25 Clive James said hauntingly to me, "It's not that you get fat. One day your whole body just turns into fat." But that wasn't how it happened with Kingsley. With him, getting fat was more like a project, grimly inaugurated on the day his second wife, Jane, left him in the winter of 1980. This would become the era of the late-night carbofests, the two-hour supersnacks with which Kingsley would start the process of soothing and numbing himself into sleep. His gustatory style now strikes me as manifestly bizarre, like something that ought to be done in solitude; but my reaction, then, was unreflectively filial you just accepted the new reality. As if in the interests of successful hibernation he would load up his cheeks with confectionery at about twice the rate that he ingested it. "Jesus, Dad," I once said, "what's going on in there? Your face is the size of a basketball." It took him about 10 minutes of disciplined mastication before he could reply. "Seems to calm me down," he said, and started loading up again. He ate for comfort; the tranquilizing effects of starch and glucose helped to allay fear. But I now see that his nocturnal gorging was a complex symptom, regressive, self-isolating. It cancelled him sexually. It seemed to say that it was over: the quest for love, and the belief in its primacy.
Soon after Stanley and the Women was published, in 1984, he said to me: "I've finally worked out why I don't like Americans."
I waited.
"Because everyone there is either a Jew or a hick."
"What's it like being mildly anti-Semitic?"
"It's all right."
"No. What's it feel like being mildly anti-Semitic? Describe it."
"What's it feel like? Well.
Very mild, as you say. If I'm watching the end of some new arts program I might notice the Jewish names in the credits and think, Ah, there's another one. Or: Oh I see. There's another one."
"And that's all?"
"More or less. You just notice them. You wouldn't want anyone to do anything about it. You'd be horrified by that."
"Fascinating. Did you see John Updike's review of Jake's Thing in The New Yorker?"
"No."
"He said that all your objections to women could be summed up by Professor Higgins's line in My Fair Lady: 'Oh, why can't a woman be like us?'"
"Yeah," said Kingsley with slow emphasis. "That's right."


A Sunday lunchtime, eight years later, in 1992, and Kingsley was expected: expected without great enthusiasm, I have to admit. More than once, in general chat, he and I had reached a modest conclusion about social and familial behavior. There is a moral duty to be cheerful. There is a solemn duty to be cheerful. And, just recently, this was a duty that Kingsley had been failing to discharge. His low spirits took aggressive form: Having cast me as a dutiful plaything of multicultural correctness, he would attempt to scandalize me with the ruggedness of his heresies. I found this routine easier to deal with at the end of the day numbed by alcohol and exhaustion. The fact that Kingsley was coming for lunch and not dinner was itself a minor victory for the old school. We had wearily squabbled about it: "I hate lunches," I'd said. "Nonsense." "I hate all lunches. I hate drinking in the middle of the day." "How can anyone hate lunches?" "You sound as if you don't believe me." "I love lunches." "I don't believe you." "You're mad." "I love dinner. I hate lunch." "Well, at my age, lunch is dinner." Yes, and at my age lunch is still lunch, and three hours of you, mate, without a few stiff ones and the comforting prospect of that minicab at 9:45
The doorbell rang. I was downstairs in the kitchen but the boys would let him in. Putting my book aside, I assembled the doings for Kingsley's cocktail and made sure that his chilled tankard was in the icebox next to his giant can of vandal-strength lager: Carlsberg Special Brew. Then I heard the cautious creak at the top of the stairs.
"Hi, Dad," I said, and we embraced.
"What's that you're reading? Some Jew?"
I turned my back on him and kept it turned. The book referred to was If This Is a Man, by Primo Levi. Not many months earlier my novel about the Holocaust, Time's Arrow, had appeared, and I had been accused of anti-Semitism. What I didn't want was another syllable of loose talk on this subject. So as I fixed my father's drink, the gin, the white onions, I kept my head down and said something like:
"Actually, I was going to tell you about it. A really clinching thing about sex difference. When the Fascist militia rounded him up he was taken to a huge detention camp, in Italy, in the north, I think. Then the Jews were singled out and told that they would be deported to Auschwitz the next day. The men all spent that last night drinking and fucking and fighting. The women all spent it washing their children and their children's clothes and preparing meals. 'And,' he writes, something like 'when the sun came up, like an ally of our enemy, the barbed wire around the camp was full of children's washing hung out in the wind to dry.'"
At last I turned with the drink in my hand. And my first thought was to reach for a kitchen towel. How had he had time to cry so much? His motionless face was a mask of unattended tears. He said, steadily, "That's one thing I feel more and more as I get older. Let's not round up the women and the children. Let's not go over the hill and fuck up the people in the next town along. Let's not do any of that ever again."
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 14, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Experience - you can say that again

    If you are a reader with a capital "R", this book is a must read. Martin Amis' gift with language, his sense of humor, and the rich material of his family life come together to make the reading of the book an experience in itself.

    I've literally read and re-read this book so many times the cover has fallen off. I like Mr. Amis' fiction writing but this book is, in my opinion, his best, and easily one of my alltime favorites.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 25, 2010

    Martin Amis

    Interesting family insights

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 22, 2000

    I Found It: A Treasure beyond Imagination--It'sAll Mine

    I have three pages remaining before I complete this overwhelming story. I am hating to finish, I will have lost a marvelous companion. I reluctantly will close it; yes, yes I will. Replacing it with W H A T???I will read it again and wonder and wonder about your life as the adult child of an alcoholic. Your Dad was absolutely a master of black, dark humor and much strength it would take to deal with the man -- alive as well as dead. He simply expired and knew well what he was doing. There is such sadness that he left you with just a minute awareness of himself as a person. I love this book because it enabled me to look at my parent, also an alcoholic, and wonder more about myself and the being of myself. I am done now. Please do a United States tour---PLEASE

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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