It's not often that an international literary phenom who’s published fifteen acclaimed novels comes out with a clunker. Martin Amis’s latest, Yellow Dog, was long-listed for the Booker Prize but slaughtered by the British press, and recently suffered an even more brutal thrashing at the hands of the Times’s Michiko Kakutani. We asked some of his fellow scribes for advice on how the junior Amis should recover.
When was the last time you read such a negative review?
Joyce Carol Oates, author, We Were the Mulvaneys: The last time would probably have been a review of a book of my own by the same reviewer.
Christopher Hitchens, author, A Long Short War: The Postponed Liberation of Iraq: As to reviews similarly scathing, I like to think I have just published one in the Atlantic, of Fred Kaplan’s The Singular Mark Twain.
Amanda Foreman, author, Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire: The last time I saw a truly eviscerating review was the Times’s review of American Psycho, by Bret Easton Ellis. It ended, “Standards, anyone?”
Do you think these reviews are really about the book, or more a reflection on Amis himself?
Oates: Certainly, reviews of this kind are overreactions, emotional outbursts engendered by spite and envy. Amis has in fact written about the quintessentially envious reviewer, so perhaps Kakutani was taking revenge on him for his insight.
Foreman: There is something about Martin Amis that seems to inflame reviewers. He is the Simon Schama of novelists—the more popular he becomes with the public, the more the cognoscenti hate him. Not even Saddam gets this kind of vitriol.
Hitchens: It’s correct to ask the relationship between the British reviews and Kakutani’s piece, since her first paragraph comes straight from the most-discussed British review, by Theo Tait in the TLS. (“It reads like the work of a less talented, less funny Martin Amis imitator.”) I’d add that she has read too little of the London press as well as too much: Everyone I know at the yellow end of Fleet Street is astonished at the way Martin has captured the pharisaic ethos of the tabloid racket. Clint Smoker and his boss are faultlessly paired.
How might Amis rise above this?
Hitchens: Martin has known for some time that there’s a whole swath of “younger” critics who can’t rest until they think they have taken him down. The avidity of their need—and especially the conformity with which it is expressed—is part of his vindication.
Foreman: A pseudonym.
Oates: Amis has already risen above it, I am sure. And so shall we all.