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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Martin Amis has Gone Bonkers 

Hard to say if it's all the drinking at an early age, when one's brain is still mushy and impressionable, or some kind of oldie's sclerosis, but Martin Amis has been writing nuttier and nuttier things over the past few years.

Why is Martin Amis so angry? And why is it all so personal? An unjust but tempting answer would be that he is – as a writer – jealous of the extremity and transgressiveness of his most vicious subjects: Islamism, the concentration camps. He is fascinated by their power, and needs something of it.

His book about Stalin was silly, even the title was puzzlingly idiotic: Koba the Dread. I was thinking of trying to find out what he felt the justification for that was, but then I decided it just wasn't worth the effort. Altogether too much time gets wasted on this sort of thing: the publishers bulding up their latest pizza pocket of a book, the author alleging some sort of imagined kinship with real poets, the reader trying to make sense of it all. Besides that, I'm lazy. I'm not some sort of critic, but a reader with important reruns of CSI to watch.

Amis's “Koba” book (what he ought to have done, of course, is call it Koba!) contained a lot of guff about Stalin's digestive tract, which rather suggested that the author had somehow missed everything there was to be said about Stalin. It reminded me a little bit of Anthony Burgess's equally foolish novel about Napoleon. In any case, there are plenty of Russian books in which a fictionalized Stalin is observed with the skill of a thoughtful, purposeful writer who has considerable experience of the period as against a passion for note-taking mixed with a lot of fevered attitudinizing. Anatolii Rybakov's Children of Arbat, while not uniquely concerned with Stalin, nevertheless provides a telling portrait of the man. It associates the deeds with some sort of recognizably human mind. Or Vladimir Kormer's Krot Istorii, if you like that sort of thing. (Historical moles causing trouble by tunnelling around, etc.)

So I don't think I'll bother reading this new volume by Amis because it sounds like drivel.



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