In Conversation: Martin Amis

Photo: Christopher Anderson/Magnum Photos/New York Magazine

Let’s start with your new book, Lionel Asbo, and in particular with the subtitle, State of England—originally the working title. Is it unfair to read that subtitle literally?

My 12-year-old daughter said to me, “Enough with the subtitles, Daddy, for crying out loud.” Because they always seem to cloud the issue rather than clarify it. There used to be such a thing—almost a genre—called “state of England” novels, or “state of the nation” novels, which tend to be earnest explorations with lots of civil servants and academics talking in indistinguishable voices. My novel is very far from being that. The subtitle is there for those who want it.

It seems to have riled up some people in England.

It doesn’t take much to do that. Several people, not just reviewers, took me to task for writing about what they called the working classes—something I’ve been doing for 40 years. I thought that was contemptible—what do they want to do, ghettoize the working class as a subject? Can you only write about your own class? I’ve written about royalty, am I not allowed to do that?

The class that’s very seriously underrepresented in my stuff is the middle class. The middle class is doing fine in fiction. But it’s not what gets me going. I love the working class, and everyone from it I’ve met, and think they’re incredibly witty, inventive—there’s a lot of poetry there. A lot of rough stuff as well. A lot of thwarted intelligence. When I talk to these lowlife friends of mine and acquaintances, I’m amazed how brilliant they are—I think, Christ, I hope they don’t write a novel. It could be really good.

So what do you think explains the response?

Just touchiness—increased touchiness.

But it happens as you leave London and come to New York, which gives it an extra charge.

Yeah, bit of that.

The book is a kind of satire of contemporary England—a member of its underclass wins the lottery and enters its tabloid class.

Satire is—I wonder how helpful it is as a category. It was once defined in apposition to irony, in that the satirist isn’t just looking at things ironically but militantly—he wants to change them. I think that category just doesn’t exist in literature. No novel has ever changed anything, as far as I can see. And the great satirists, like Swift and Dickens, tend to write about abuses and injustices that have already been partially corrected—you write about it after it’s over. I would say I’m an ironist, not a satirist. All you do is you take existing tendencies and crank them up, just turn up the volume dial. Which is a technique of science fiction, apart from anything else.

You wouldn’t call the book a work of science fiction, though, would you?

Often it doesn’t occur to you what kind of novel you’re writing until quite late on, and I realized that it was more like a fairy tale than like any form I could think of. And I very much had in the back of my mind Dickens—a heightened London, a stylized London. Dickens is a much misunderstood and mis-approached writer, in that he tends to be read, particularly in the twentieth century, as a social commentator—a realist in his way. But he isn’t at all like that. His genre is actually more like a fairy tale—weird transformations, long voyages from which people come back altered, parental mysteries, semi-magical twists.

Is London Dickensian today?

Some people have said that England’s always been just as it is in this novel. It had a century or two of empire—or not even that, a century of grandeur. But that it’s actually always been a kind of bear pit.

A very rich bear pit.

Margaret Thatcher put it brutally, as she always did: If they can’t afford to live in London, they must live elsewhere. Gentrification is like class cleansing, it’s flushing out the proletariat, just by pressure and money.

London and New York are on a par in terms of inequality—a really striking thing, an evil thing. In the middle of the century and beyond, the tendency was very much egalitarian—the lessening of divides. But now, both here and in England, inequality is on the level it was just before the First World War. It has just relapsed to those ruling-class kind of levels. That whole ameliorative energy, and tendency, has been reversed, just in the last ten or twenty years. And I think it’s tremendously demoralizing for a society when the divide gets that big.

Were you in London for the riots?

I wasn’t. As I recall, it was, as these things usually are, set off by a bit of heavy-handed policing. It’s interesting that there’s such a contrast between the police in America and there, in how they’re viewed by the working class, or whatever you want to call them—the proletariat, the many. In America, the policeman is a working-class hero. In En­gland, the policeman is a working-class traitor. That’s why there’s such violent names for the police in criminal England—they call them not only the filth, the filth, but also the puss. They’re the lowest of the low. When policemen go to prison in England, they have as bad a time as a pedophile. The police in America are quite, to my senses, fascistic—you know, an immediate end to all humor, end of all human contact. It’s a real assertion of authority in a way that’s very rare in England. In England, police are, softly, softly, Now sir, come on sir. It’s a humoring voice, not an authoritarian one.

Circa 1985.Photo: David Montgomery/New York Magazine

But when a riot starts, it’s all off—the law suspended. It’s just the sort of thing that happens every now and then. Very hard to see any kind of social protest in it.

But it was an expression of class frustration to some degree, wasn’t it?

It’s not class anymore. It’s money. And for very good reason. Money is a much more fluid medium than class, and much more measurable, too, than class. It was a protest, if it was that, to any extent, against privation. It is the sort of society where—it’s not very rational—people look at fame and feel deprived if they haven’t got it, feeling that this is a basic, almost a human right—a civil right. And also feel the same way about wealth, I suppose—Why haven’t I got it? And plenty of people have got it who don’t deserve it. It’s as if it’s all up there for grabs, but it isn’t coming their way.

What do you think of London mayor Boris Johnson?

I met him once very briefly, in a TV studio, as his run for mayor was looking as though he might win. I’d just been on and was going, and he’d just come in and was going on and he was very nervous. And I said, “Boris, just be yourself.” And he said, “Oh, no, that’s over. No more of that.”

There’s John Lanchester’s new novel, Capital, and Zadie Smith has a book coming out about Northwest London, and there’s your book. It does seem like there’s a bit of a wave of thinking about London in the post-crash years.

It’s really the postwar years, isn’t it? That’s how long it’s been going on. When the Big Three met in Yalta during the war—they weren’t the Big Three, they were the Big Two, plus Churchill. England was already ceasing to matter, even during the war.

That’s the big difference in feel between the places, London and New York. It doesn’t really matter what happens in London anymore, to the world. It is still a financial center, but politically, it just doesn’t matter. And that can’t be said of New York. You know, how often is there a piece about England in the New York Times? Well, Murdoch, but—

What do you think of that whole business?

They’re all mad about it, in England, like you followed Watergate. I kept on saying, What’s at stake? What’s the worst that could happen? What’s the most momentous thing that could happen?

Well, there’s something delectable about one of the most powerful men in the country being taken down by tabloid reporters spying on somebody’s voice-mails.

There’s a certain piquancy about that. But there’s not much riding on it. And as my friend Deborah Orr said, how they get the information is of interest—hacking and all that. But even if the information had been delivered by the stork, the fact that this is the kind of thing we’re interested in is in itself a condemnation. That it’s all on such a vulgar and intrusive level. Why is that appetite? I’ve thought for a long time the people are not like that. The English people are tolerant and cheerful, and they don’t want all this filth on well-known people. It was really brought home when Princess Diana died, and they were very hurriedly knocking up front pages of her as an ­angel—with wings, against a partly cloudy background, you know. While on page 20 they had a piece about, This bitch is fucking a Muslim.

Is the press more honorable here?

Much more. There isn’t what my father called the cruising hostility of the English press—where they’re looking around for something to attack. I think it must be to do with world-historical decline. Takes odd forms, and self-hatred is one of them.

Is that how you make sense of the interest of the English press in you?

I don’t understand it, and I’m tired of saying I don’t understand it, and I’m tired of saying I’m tired of saying I don’t understand it. But I don’t understand it.

For so long here, when people talked about you and your contemporaries in England, they’d marvel that writers were treated as celebrities there. But then Salman Rushdie comes here and he’s treated with similar attention. And people are very interested in your arrival. You’re celebrities, here, too.

But it’s a different tone, believe me. No comparison. My explanation for this is simply that America is a younger country than England, and as self-awareness was forming in America—are we a collection of immigrants, or are we a country with a soul and an identity?—there was a subliminal sense, they knew that the writers would be the ones who would answer those questions. So a sense of respect was accorded to them. Whereas in England you come under the heading of boffin and egghead. When the tabloids refer to scientists, it’s “boffins may have discovered a cure for this or that.” “White-haired old cunts,” “eccentrics”—that’s their view of brains. There’s a lot of anti-intellectualism in Britain. And the writer’s views on this or that are really of less importance, as they see it, than that of the man in the street. They’re thought of as indulged figures, who never had to do an honest day of work.

And you think you’re in the U.S. for good?

We came just for family reasons, to do with my mother’s death and my wife’s stepfather’s death, and her mother is the same age as my mother when she died. And that’s what I said at every opportunity to the press in England—this was not a stalk out of En­gland. Every chance I got. And yet it was treated as that. Fuck off to America.

They’ve been charging you with Americanism for a while.

It’s insecurity.

Have you liked it so far? It seems like you’ve found it hospitable.

Very hospitable. And wonderful weather.

I can’t believe you’d say that.

Why, because it’s been so hot? All I care about is the color of the sky. I can’t believe how reliably pretty the skies are here.

And what do you make of Brooklyn?

Embarrassingly idyllic, really. Like living in the fifties—so philoprogenitive. You know, pregnant women everywhere—prams, kids. I like that. Just a gentle atmosphere. I don’t think I’d like Manhattan anymore. I like looking at it from a distance—it awes me. But it’s too noisy. The city that never sleeps—yeah, that’s right, the city where you never sleep.

Is it the same city that you depicted in Money in 1984?

It has much less edge now. Money has been like a douche through the whole city. My nagging thought about America is that it’s becoming more like a plutocracy than a democracy.

You arrived just in time for the election.

I’ve had the great pleasure of watching the incredible convulsions of the Republican Party. They’ve been pathetic. And I do think it’s a reaction to having a black president—despite everything they say, it’s been killing them. And what struck you in the primaries was how Romney was the only conceivably electable one of that lot.

None of the more credible candidates got in the race—Jeb Bush, Chris Christie.

Chris Christie is obviously a very smart Huey Long. And Jeb Bush—they’d written this one off, basically. I wish they’d gone the whole hog—Sarah Palin with Joe the Plumber as V.P. But they drew back from that. I passionately hope Obama does win.

You’re an admirer of his.

Sympathizer, too. Did he know how little a president can actually do? It’s been compared to this huge cruiser, and if you’ve got your hand on the tiller, you can’t actually change the angle more than a couple of degrees. I think he didn’t quite realize that—how many compromises he’d have to make. But if you see sympathetic journalists list what he has done, it’s not bad.

There was a period when American liberals were really envious of the British system—where whoever’s in charge is actually in charge. Now it seems that just lets you run things into a ditch a little more quickly.

It’s a fascinating time to be in America. I mean, how will it cope with decline?

You think decline is inevitable?

Well, it’s scheduled for 2043, when the Chinese economy will surpass it. But I’m not so sure about that—I think it could go on for much longer. I think that China has got some real trouble coming. Do you know how many protests there are in China? Three hundred a day. Often violent, large-scale. But the American century will turn out to have been, perhaps, a century, almost to the year.

Decline in one form or another has been one of your several great subjects.

Well, I’m afraid the negative things are always the great subjects. Failure is much more interesting than success. And we’re sort of biologically locked into decline. I interviewed Graham Greene for his 80th birthday, and I said—incredibly impertinently, it now seems—well, at least you’ve got religion. You’ll be needing that, soon. And he said, oh, no. My faith is much weaker than it used to be. Faith is a talent and it goes the way of all your talents. Getting old is the subtraction of your powers. Which very much goes for writing. And the writer in decline is a contribution of medical science—it didn’t used to come up, because they’re all dead. Dickens at 58, Shakespeare at 52, Jane Austen at 41. But now you have 80-year-old novelists. And it’s self-evident that the grasp and the gift erodes. I don’t see many exceptions to that rule.

Do you want to talk some about Christopher Hitchens?

I used to bow to his love of life, and always thought it was superior to mine. But it seems that what happens when it’s a friend that close—by which I mean that you grew up and grew along together, you got married about the same time, you got divorced about the same time, you had children, you had more children, all the crises were in parallel—when someone that’s as close as that goes, it’s as though they give you the job of loving life moment by moment. It’s your responsibility to inherit that love of life.

But it’s hard to make progress with grief. And I feel very stuck with him, in that every day I give a sort of groan or a shout of incredulity. I just can’t believe it. And I also think, it’s so radical of him to die, so contrarian, so left-wing, so extreme. And it was long in coming, too.

His long sickness, you mean?

His son asked me, has this put you off smoking? And I said, no, it’s put me off medical treatment. He was so determined and resolute about that—he tried all that there is to try. And in the last months, you’d be sitting with him in hospital, and every ten minutes someone came in and did something unspeakable do him—stuck something down his nose. What killed him, in fact, was not the cancer, but the hospital. He had three or four bouts of hospital-borne pneumonia. It doesn’t work anymore, hospital.

I don’t think I’ve ever been particularly scared of death—but scared of dying, the process. There’s an Iris Murdoch novel where a character who’s dying says, I do so want to die well, but how is it done? A good question. And Hitch certainly died well—without self-pity. And without loss of humor. Because it’s often been said that it’s very hard for a dying person not to be a villain. I very much fear that I’ll be not a good advertisement for the process.

Not as good as he was.

Not a chance. He was very brave. Not just at the end. He was fearless. When we were younger, we’d be in ferocious pubs, for instance, and some altercation would begin, and you’d be saying, Hitch, let’s sort of slip away, and he wouldn’t back down an inch, ever. I never had that kind of physical courage. And it’s nice being brave. It’s a great resource.

The other great thing is that he never felt the least shame about it. I think people are much afflicted by shame when they’re dying. Especially in a culture like America, where there’s such pressure to be up.

I was really struck watching the eulogy you gave, oriented around the question of what you called the “charisma of the Hitch,” down to his autocontrarianism. It made me think of your own charisma. As a writer, you seem to play a much more vivid role in the lives of your readers than most.

I sometimes feel I’m a sort of cult writer, rather than a mainstream writer, in that those who like my stuff like it a lot, but the appeal is not that broad. And I’d like to think it’s like I felt when I first read Bellow or Nabokov, felt after a couple of pages with the first one I’d tried, that this is one for me, I have to read everything they’ve written.

Someone said of my stuff that I deliver truisms with enormous force. And I don’t mind that—I think it’s not bad, actually. I think the effects are achieved with some subtlety, but I’m not really interested in subtlety. And I think a lot of people who read fiction are interested in subtlety, and respond to that. But they wouldn’t like my stuff. It’s a bit too violent for many tastes.

What about violence has been so transfixing to you?

Don DeLillo’s huge novel Underworld is about this—the psychological effects of living in the age of mutual assured destruction, which is what he did and I did from birth on. Deterrence was in place four days after I was born, with the first Russian test in 1949. And it made everything feel contingent. DeLillo reached a conclusion that I share—that love has two opposites, one is hatred and one is death. Death was sort of in the air until the fall of communism. And love took a beating in those years.

And there were times when death would come to the forefront, as in Cuba, when I was 13, during [the missile crisis]. And I remember feeling sick to my stomach for a week, absolutely sick to my stomach.

Were you in America at the time?

No, I was in Cambridge, I was in school. Terrified and nauseous. It’s different now. But I think those who lived through it have come away with a bit of damage to their capacity to love, and trust, and all those kinds of emotions. I like the paragraph in [my novel] The Pregnant Widow about this: The only time you came out with how worried you were in this war, the only time you fought it, this cold war, was when you were asleep, in your dreams. That’s where you did your army service, in your sleep. Eric Hobsbawm called it the contest of nightmares—a very good phrase, a deep phrase, because that’s what it was. Bad dreams from the Western bloc to the Eastern bloc.

Has your interest in violence skewed your audience at all, do you think?

I used to worry that I wasn’t attracting enough women readers. I felt that often in England, but I don’t feel it here. In the signing queue, after an event, there are at least as many girls as boys.

One of the things that pleased Hitchens most during his last months was how many young people were in the audience at that event run by Stephen Fry. It’s very heartening if you find yourself attracting the young. Because it means your stuff is going to live, at least one more generation.

In some of the essays in The Second Plane, you wrote about a kind of professional crisis of confidence—how does the novelist respond to events like 9/11? It does seem that the things that you’ve written since Experience, in 2000, are of a slightly different cast—a lot more nonfiction, much more political, and even those novels you have written have had a kind of enhanced documentary quality.

Norman Mailer put this very well, in his book The Spooky Art. He said one of the few demerits of the writer’s life—because it is a great life, I think, never happier than when settling down to work every day, except when it’s a rough bit—is that writers spend too much time among dead things. I thought that was profound and actually true, that you’re trying to pump life into something that is inanimate. You see what a sort of audacious thing it is to move these sort of imaginary people around in a very stylized and patterned world.

But you’ve also written quite a lot about nonimaginary people, and I wanted to ask especially about your essays on radical Islamism. Why was that so important to write about, and do you still feel like it’s the kind of imminent threat you felt it was?

I don’t think I do think that. My younger son has just done a second degree on the Muslim Brotherhood, and he speaks Arabic, and he’s been to travel quite a lot around there. And I was saying to him the other day, Don’t you feel it’s all in retreat? And he said, No. You know, their time has come. They’re close to power in Egypt, and elsewhere.

In the last essay in The Second Plane, I say there are certain figures, like Nasrallah in Hezbollah, who you feel are too clever to not see that the next stage is to become a politician, and not a radical and a fringe figure. To join the debate of the mainstream. Bernard Lewis said democracy and Islam can’t reconcile themselves to each other—he said the prognosis is, One man one vote, and no votes for women, once. But that doesn’t seem to be happening. The Islamic parties—Turkey is the model—become quite a viable alternative in very religious societies. Let’s not forget, the people are very religious. But the parties, in half a generation, seem to have made the journey to the argument of the mainstream. That virulence, which is all one was hearing about for several years after September 11, that literalism and virulence and commitment to slaughter—that just seems to have been a convulsion, and it’s steadied.

In The Pregnant Widow, you wrote about the sexual revolution as a kind of convulsion. What does it mean to you to have come of age at the center of that?

It’s manifestly the great convulsion of my generation, and I’m very grateful that I was just old enough to know what it was like before. The prerevolutionary time seems to me now so weird and distorted, but I did live through it, in my teens. They really weren’t having it, girls, you know—out of the question. Soon after I wrote that novel, I was teaching in Manchester. It was a great job, because all I did was teach my favorite novels. And we were looking at Lucky Jim, my father’s first novel. Which had lost none of its comic power. It’s full of rage. And you suddenly realize that every character in that novel, except the filthy painter Bertrand, is a virgin. They’re all in a rage because they’re sexually frustrated. It was written in the early fifties. You were very lucky if you’d had an affair before you got married. And as the hero of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning says, you’ve got to get a girl who’s married already, that was the only way. They got married, and then their sex lives began—not just with each other, but with other married people. And whatever its distortions and excesses, the sexual revolution and the postrevolutionary era was much healthier than that.

What’s beclouding it all now is pornography. No one really knows what the long-term effects of that are going to be.

It’s been a subject of yours for a while, and it’s remarkable just how much the culture of pornography has changed even since you’ve been writing about it.

In my early novels there are references to magazines, which seems quaint now. It didn’t really exist, except pictures of young girls showing their breasts. And then there was the breakthrough with pubic hair, 1970, I think. But it just felt illegal. And now it’s—

It’s sex education.

That’s how they get their sex education now. Watching Desiree Fairweather and some tattooed ex-convict in high-definition close-up. I shudder to think what my girls have certainly already seen. My oldest daughter—I had many candid conversations with her when she was in her twenties, about how certain things were expected, just taken from pornography, which, lest we forget, is a very misogynistic form. Why does every sexual act end with something that girls hate? You know, the facial. When I wrote a long piece about pornography, I hung out with this porn actress, who was incredibly bright, and I said, How many girls, even here in San Fernando Valley, how many of them like that? She said, Well, I like it. I like being spanked and spat on, I like that kind of thing. But she said about 5 percent like it—5 percent don’t mind it. And 95 percent hate it. And yet it’s the sine qua non of the sex scene.

Amateur porn is now a much bigger part of the diet, and yet it’s not any less misogynistic and not any less directed by male desire, even if it’s couples making it.

They talk about pornography becoming mainstream and accepted. And I thought, no, it never will, until masturbation is mainstream and accepted and cool. Women will never assent to it. And the reason is because their great power, gift, procreation, is just ignored in pornography—there’s no talk about getting pregnant, “Don’t make me pregnant.” There’s none of that. It’s as if procreation were caused by something else entirely, like sneezing. But I think that women are coming around to it. There’s a review by a woman I read the other day of that 50 Shades of Grey book. Last sentence is, I wouldn’t wank to it, but it’s not bad. And I thought, Christ, that’s sort of lad’s-mag talk—sort of more male than male.

I wanted to ask about this other book you wrote, long ago, about video games.

Yeah, everyone keeps asking about that. Because video games are so huge.

What do you make of those people who suggest it’s an essentially novelistic, or anyway narrative, art form?

I don’t know what they’re talking about, really. What is very narrative-like, and I remember the fascination of this, is that you do one level and then you go up to another level. That kind of progressive testing of your resources is very addictive. And I think when I got to, what was it, the ninth level of Space Invaders—at that point it goes back to the first level. I was incredibly thrilled when I did that, in a café in Paris. But once I’d done that, the game was over for me.

It’s one of many instances, though, of you kind of slumming it, in terms of subjects—writing about snooker, darts. But there’s nothing muckraking or crusading about that writing.

What was always interesting to me was contrast. And extremes. And there’s less of that, since the poor aren’t there, in cities, in quite the numbers they used to be. My father was a communist as a young man, until the age of about 30—Hungary in 1956 made him change. He wrote a piece where he said how difficult it is to give up that vision of the city on a hill—a Utopia. And Hitch, too.

You’re not that way?

I like the idea of coming up with a society that is a little better than this—a gradualist, ameliorist spirit getting something a little fairer and a little more compassionate. But the idea of a Utopia has always been completely repulsive to me. What would one do in a Utopia? What would one write about? If you are at all artistic you want all those inequalities—that’s what makes life interesting.

It seems like you’ve never really been an avant-gardist as a reader or a writer, ­either—always more interested in extending or editing the tradition, rather than overthrowing it.

Well, Money is postmodernist, really, isn’t it? In that, there’s the author in there, as a minor character. What I felt I was doing there was seeing whether there were comic possibilities in postmodernism.

To show how a novel is made while you’re writing a novel isn’t an uninteresting idea. And there are one or two masterpieces of postmodern fiction, like Philip Roth’s The Counterlife—a really very impressively intricate book.

But, like you, he kind of moved past metafiction.

Well, it didn’t lead anywhere. Postmodernism had, I think, tremendous predictive power—it predicted how the world was going to be. Now even a politician will talk about, how am I going to spin this. It’s all knowing, and wised up, and confessedly wised up, in a way that it didn’t used to be, before. But as a genre it was naturally kind of disappearing up its own ass.

And now we’re back. We’re not post-postmodern, we’re just later modern. All that experimentation in fiction is dead, for another set of reasons. Like p.c. ideology, experimentation is a sort of luxury item. When times get hard, you won’t hear anything about that kind of supersensitivity to people taking offense. And I think what has happened in fiction is that fiction has responded to the fact that the rate of history has accelerated in this last generation, and will continue to accelerate, with more sort of light-speed kind of communications. Those huge, leisurely, digressive, essayistic, meditative novels of the postwar era—some of which were on the best-seller lists for months—don’t have an audience anymore.

Those are some of the novels that you’ve always cited as the most important to you.

They’re magnificent.

But you don’t think there’s a future for them.

No. I think they’re extinct. No one is writing that kind of novel now. Well, your near-namesake David Foster Wallace—that posthumous one looks sort of Joycean and huge and very left-field. But most novelists I think are much more aware than they used to be of the need for forward motion, for propulsion in a novel. Novelists are people too, and they’re responding to this just as the reader is.

There’s a very good poem by Auden called “The Novelist,” a sonnet in fact. It begins by talking about the poet—“Encased in talent like a uniform … They can dash forward like hussars.” And it comes to the novelist. Your talent is very different. You must submit yourself to all human boredom. With the just, be just, with the filthy, filthy, too. It’s a much more promiscuous and Everyman-ish form. And those novels we’ve just talked about, the long-headed, wise, sort of Babel novels, where you’re just sort of sounding off about this and that—I like those novels, but that is too much like the voice of a poem, not the novelist.

I’m not interested in making a diagnostic novel. I’m 100 percent committed in fiction to the pleasure principle—that’s what fiction is, and should be. English interviewers have said, about Lionel Asbo, it’s written with great disgust. Absolutely not—affection and admiration. You couldn’t write a novel out of disgust.

It sounds schmaltzy to say, but fiction is much more to do with love than people admit or acknowledge. The novelist has to not only love his characters—which you do, without even thinking about it, just as you love your children. But also to love the reader, and that’s what I mean by the pleasure principle. The difference between a Nabokov, who in almost all his novels, nineteen novels, gives you his best chair and his best wine and his best conversation. Compare that to Joyce, who, when you arrive at his house, is nowhere to be found, and then you stumble upon him, making some disgusting drink of peat and dandelion in the kitchen. He doesn’t really care about you. Henry James ended up that way. They fall out of love with the reader. And the writing becomes a little distant.

You’re still interested in pleasing the reader.

You can’t be up the reader’s ass, as many a writer I think is—cute as hell, ingratiating as hell. But that’s not loving the reader in the right way. That’s toadying to the reader. When I talk about the pleasure principle, I don’t say there is only one kind of pleasure, there are many kinds of pleasure. Some pleasure is difficult. It should be for the reader as well as the writer. But it has to be pleasure.

This story appeared in the July, 30, 2012 issue of New York Magazine.

Click Here to Read the Extended Interview on Vulture

This conversation has been condensed and edited from two interviews conducted at Amis’s home on July 10 and 11. For the longer version, click here.

In Conversation: Martin Amis