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Experience: A Memoir Paperback – June 12, 2001


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Experience: A Memoir + The War Against Cliche: Essays and Reviews 1971-2000 + Money: A Suicide Note (Penguin Ink)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st Vintage International ed edition (June 12, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375726837
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375726835
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #225,723 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"We live in the age of mass loquacity," Martin Amis writes by way of introduction to Experience, thereby placing the reader in a curious bind. How to feel about a memoir by a writer who deplores our current enthusiasm for memoirs? Can such a public appeal for private life be convincing? The son of misanthropic comic novelist Kingsley Amis, Amis the Younger's life story is "a literary curiosity," he tells us, "which is also just another instance of a father and a son." He's spent his whole life bathed in the dubious yellow glow of celebrity, from the cries of nepotism surrounding his first novel's publication to the bizarre tempest in a teapot involving the size of the advance for The Information, his choice of literary agent, and of course that famously expensive set of new teeth.

Here, finally, is Amis's chance to set matters straight--and if you're looking for his take on these controversies, you won't be disappointed. In fact, you should turn right away to the end of the book. After all, how many memoirs have indices--and how many indices are this entertaining? In addition to movers and shakers like "Travolta, John," "Brown, Tina," and "Bellow, Saul," one finds an extended entry for "dental problems," which includes "of animals," "sexual potency and," "Bellow on," and--more ominously--"tumour."

Yet it's as "a clear view of the geography of a writer's mind," not as a celebrity tell-all, that Experience succeeds. Organized not by chronology but by a strange thematic schema all Amis's own, this messy, tangential book moves backward and forward in time and comes studded with footnotes and interspersed with schoolboy epistles. As a result, it's much truer to the actual texture of experience than anything more "novelistic" could possibly be. Amis's charming, quarrelsome, almost entirely helpless father; the tragic disappearance of his cousin, Lucy Partington; the daughter discovered only as an adult; those teeth--the narrative circles around these events and personages in prose as virtuoso but often less chilly than that found in his novels. This is memoir as anatomy of obsessions, and in the most profound way, it illuminates the source and power of Amis's remarkable work. --Mary Park --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers 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 noneAa 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 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

All that said, this is a very good book, beautifully crafted and always a pleasure to read.
Laon
The book is very well written, and despite the annoying use of footnotes to mark augmentations and tangents, I found it an enjoyable read.
"elnicko1234"
No I am not going to go to close to home because it is A. too painful and B.(perhaps a sub-theme of A) just TOO private.
Jake Warman

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 30 people found the following review helpful By sweetmolly on July 30, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is a memoir structured like none you have ever read. You don't read about Martin Amis' life, you "experience" it. The occasional letters home written while he was in school anchor the structure. The letters are bracketed by his fierce criticisms of his own past writing styles.
Mr. Amis has brilliance, humor and intellect, all bursting like fireworks off the page. He also has quirks that he freely indulges. You have to get past his obsession with his teeth. (Yes, teeth.) He can start on any subject and get waylaid by dental experiences he has had. You almost forgive him these tirades, as he describes them so vividly. No one who has served a sentence or two in a dentist's chair can help but agree "the drill, capable of making your vision shudder." Then there is the issue of his phantom obesity. He continually worries about the past, present and future size of his "bum," yet every single photo in the book depicts a slim boy/youth/man called Martin Amis.
One of the strongest areas in the book is his loving tribute to his family, particularly his father, the renowned Kingsley Amis. The family is eccentric-twenty years after his parents' divorce, Kingsley moves in to the upper story of his happily remarried ex-wife's residence where she cares for him the rest of his life. The reason for this move is Kingsley does not and will not stay alone at night. His sons take this as an absolute given and grown up Martin and brother Philip discuss whether they will have to move in with Dad to quell the night frights.
Mr. Amis' descriptive powers are a marvel as they drop effortlessly through his narrative, such as, "There is a slushy crush outside the British Airways terminal.
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38 of 42 people found the following review helpful By E. Hawkins on June 13, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I think that Martin Amis has never written more beautifully than he does in `Experience'. This is saying a lot. In the last twenty years no other writer -- not even John Updike -- has displayed a comparable love of language: what Sebastian Faulks calls Amis's 'disciplined literary exuberance'. I think the 'disciplined' part is something a lot of people overlook in talking about Amis's linguistic acrobatics. Amis never eschews lucidity in his writing; every word is carefully chosen, every adverb and adjective absolutely spot-on.
'Experience' shows Amis turning his prose on himself, and his family, particularly his father; yet the book isn't a conventional memoir. James Wood, in an insightful review, wrote of the book as `an escape from memoir...an escape into privacy.' Rather than trace in detail the life of a successful writer in the post-WW2 world, the advances and the interviews, Amis has tackled the universal theme of innocence becoming experience; of Youth becoming Age and ultimately Death. This is not to say that Amis has gone super-solemn. `Experience' is full of wonderful set-pieces (including a wonderfully funny account of Christopher Hitchens laying into Saul Bellow over Israel's foreign policy) and his father's tidal-wave wit is everywhere. But at the heart of `Experience' sits the understanding that Death is inescapable, yet not impossible to accept. Kingsley's death - the most moving part of the book - removes the intercessionary figure that stands between Martin and Death; yet it also makes him realise how precious and important life is, and how lucky writers are in being able to leave their best work behind them. I should say that `Experience' does have its annoyances.
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33 of 37 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 23, 2001
Format: Paperback
I am probably a bigger fan of Martin Amis than I am of his brilliant and too-imitated father. I often wish more writers, particularly American writers, took his verbal verve as inspiration. I've always loved the way MA broke all the rules of the "how to write" school -- his brazen use of adverbs, etc. When I started reading Amis in my early twenties, he gave me hope.
I devoured book after book. But as I grew up (i.e., entered my thirties) it began to dawn on me that he had a brilliant style, with nothing to say. I kept thinking -- God, he ought to be writing copy for Mercedes or something, what a waste of talent to the advertising community. Because despite advancing age, he clearly lacked the insight and maturity to write about women, violence, nuclear fear, the Holocaust.
The early books, I thought, were about something. The Rachel Papers was about self-regarding first love, Success about growing up and putting our childhood heartbreaks behind us, though it might mean losing our souls in the process. Other People fascinated because I lived through something like the protagonist. How did this guy tap into my experience? I was deeply impressed.
Then came the big books that made him famous and rich: Money, London Fields, The Information. In which characters became less real, too cartoonlike, too cliched to move the reader to indentification, the books themselves too long, wearing out attention span and killing their own too-grand themes. Night Train and Time's Arrow brief, merely clever style exercises full of what we already know. The world is bad and scary. So what else is new?
It's amazing that Amis's next book is called Against Cliche, because for all his brilliant word combinations, his characters and situations are nothing but cliche.
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