EXPERIENCE, by Martin Amis (Knopf Canada), 385 pages, $35.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN
Welcome to the world of Martin Amis -- second son of the notorious Kingsley, author of such trenchant novels as The Rachel Papers, The Information, London Fields and Money, dental patient emeritus and whipping boy of the English press.
It's a wonderful place of privilege, celebrity and intellectual intrigue on the one hand, and a dark, woeful realm of emotional tragedy, physical pain and public persecution on the other.
Amis, too, is the first cousin of one Lucy Partington, a poised, self-possessed, promising 21-year-old history scholar who disappeared in late 1973 and was never seen again. A little over 20 years later, the family learned her fate: she had been abducted at a bus stop and brutally slain by Britain's most wacked-out serial murderer, Frederick West.
Amis's memoir, Experience -- an erudite but eminently readable, magnificently footnoted foray into one of the liveliest minds on the modern literary scene -- is loosely structured around this singular event. That, and his rotten teeth and the hell on earth of their well-publicized replacement, his lovingly stormy relationship with his dad, who died delirious in 1995, and his friendship with Saul Bellow, his idol and "literary father."
Despite the tragic through-line, though, Amis retains his inherited sense of humour. He recounts his whimsical childhood, his slacker student days, his romantic explorations and on through to his own fatherhood with sharp, sardonic wit. And it goes a long way toward the book's aim -- to set the record, on several accounts, straight.
Deathly colour But what's so striking, and satisfying, about Amis's true-life remembrances is his own sensitiveness in response to them. His painful confessions include chronic mid-life bouts of weeping, his feelings of liberation on Kingsley's demise, and instances of sexual abuse, at the hands of strangers, as a young boy. And his thoughts on death, always at the forefront, colour them all.
It's an edgy and electrifying read, one that should make fans of Amis -- who is interviewed and reads from Experience Friday night at Harbourfront (see Readings, this page) -- itch for the next fictional instalment in his already fantastical and fascinating career.