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This article is taken from PN Review 20, Volume 7 Number 6, July - August 1981.

What Life Is - the novels of Martin Amis Neil Powell

Success is a funny thing. In literature (as K. W. Gransden observed in an amiable poem on Poetry Now recently), there are those notable popular successes which turn up, still in their paper jackets but a little tatty, cluttering the shelves of second-hand bookshops a couple of decades later, their authors either forgotten or remembered merely as instances of the fickleness of reputations. Then there are the successes which enjoy a quite different kind of life, even though their 'literary' reputations may stand hardly higher than those of the first sort: books which are distinctively of their time and which, though by no means great works of art, succeed through accuracy of detail and of tone - as, for instance, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning does. And finally, there are the successes which endure, which are never to be found gathering dust on bookshop shelves, and of which the paperback spines, after a decent interval, change colour from orange to the dignified grey of the Penguin Modern Classics.

Martin Amis's three novels belong at present to the second category of success: but, such is the league-table logic of this particular game, they may be promoted or relegated, depending on the whims of fashion and that old common arbitrator, Time. Amis has certainly been the most praised and the most publicised new writer of full-length fiction in England in the past decade (the qualification 'full-length' is made necessary by the stories of Ian McEwan), and not without reason. ...


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