Inside Story by Martin Amis is a maddening book written by a maddening man.
I’m writing this review partly out of perversity, gleeful with the knowledge that Inside Story is unlikely material for a “mom blogger“.
Amis would likely eye my attempt with utter disdain.
And courting disdain from such a man seems like a safe bet. At least he won’t try to seduce me.
Martin Amis: Author, Anti-hero
Known in his younger years as a womanizer, Amis leans into this perception, dedicating reams of prose to the male gaze. He exhaustively lists the physical characteristics of his conquests.
Famous for his intelligence and combativeness, Martin commonly skewers writers, politicians, and polite society. The dialogue scenes in Inside Story seem meant to make readers question if people really talk like that; so urbane and clever, topical and well-educated.
With every word, the author strains to convey that he is exactly the kind of person who talks like that.
Martin wants the reader to think he’s parodying his outlandish lifestyle and the reputation that comes with it. But he’s enjoying himself entirely too much for me to buy it.
Inside Story by Martin Amis
Inside Story is an autobiographical novel tackling grief and loss. Primarily of Amis’ bestie, essayist Christopher Hitchens, but also of the poet Philip Larkin, the novelist Saul Bellow, and touchingly, at the very last moment, of ex-stepmother Elizabeth Jane Howard.
Amis weaves through time and experience, seemingly led by his ego. His memories with the various deceased shine haphazardly. I suspect Amis commissions the ones that make him sound the smartest and most interesting.
My favorite chapters were devoted to writing tips, lovingly addressed to the reader. As a writer, I found these sections truly helpful. As a reader, I enjoyed the vicarious joy an author truly enjoying their craft.
What Is An Autobiographical Novel?
To me? It’s a cop-out.
There seems to be a fine line between autobiographical fiction and memoir. With memoirs, it’s common to change details to protect identities or heighten tension for dramatic effect. With autobiographical fiction (at least the way Martin Amis wields it), all bets are off.
The reader is not meant to know what’s real; if a scene was merely tweaked or made from whole cloth. I find this both annoying and self-serving.
Amis, not strictly bound by “truth,” can make himself, if not the hero, at least the lovable rake of every situation. Martin’s prose is always superb, but I’d like to know better when to praise his inventiveness as opposed to his wordplay.
The Naked and the Dead is one of my favorite books, though I know Norman Mailer (the author) stabbed his wife at a cocktail party. I love Phillip Roth while knowing he probably wouldn’t think much of me (uh, cuz I’m a woman).
But the way Martin inserts himself into his autobiographical novels? It makes this distinction difficult.
Part of me wonders whether Inside Story would be more rewarding if I knew which parts were fiction. But most of me is so begrudgingly impressed by Amis’ writing that I know verity doesn’t really matter.