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The Amis Family Feud: Why Did Kingsley Hate His Son’s Work?

One of the most well-known father-son duos in all of literature has to be Martin Amis and his father, Kingsley Amis.

Martin, of course, is the author of Money while his father, Kingsley, is the author of Lucky Jim–both books are on the Time list.

The most interesting thing about their relationship, though, is Kingsley Amis’s disdain for his son’s work. Before he passed in 1995, the elder Amis wasn’t shy about publicly ridiculing Martin’s writing.

According to Martin, the two men still got along despite their differences. Here’s how he described their relationship to The New York Times in 1990.

His fondness for his father is such that he has never publicly retaliated, nor objected to Kingsley’s opinions of his work. Martin takes it sadly, makes light of it. Apparently, Kingsley liked the beginning of his son’s last novel, ”Money,” a hectic tour of lowlife New York, London and Los Angeles, but didn’t finish it. ”I can point out the exact place where he stopped and sent the book twirling through the air; that’s where the character named Martin Amis comes in. ‘Breaking the rules, buggering about with the reader, drawing attention to himself,’ ” Martin says wearily, reciting his father’s litany of complaints.

I know exactly the passage that Martin Amis points out there because I underlined it. John Self, the protagonist, stumbles across this writer, Martin Amis, a few times in the city streets and in pubs across London.

For me, a writer placing himself into his novel as a secondary character his pretty funny, although perhaps a bit self-indulgent. Apparently, Kingsley disagreed.

Getting that far in the novel was a success, compared to Kingsley’s previous experiences reading his son’s work. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for Martin Amis to be in the exact same profession as his father and to receive that amount of criticism, especially public criticism.

That had to be difficult. But Martin Amis has a made a nice career for himself, despite the lack of support from his father.

More interesting information in their relationship in this article at The New York Times.

(Image of Martin Amis: Wikimedia Commons)

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. Well, at least he can say he made it on his own as a novelist, and not because his dad was a champion of his work. Kind of a cold comfort though…


    February 5, 2014
  2. Interesting relationship certainly. Funnily enough I had trouble finishing Jpod after Douglas Coupland popped up!


    February 5, 2014
  3. Ted Fontenot #

    In the interests of full disclosure, as they say, let me fully acknowledge that I’m a partisan. I favor the writer Kingsley to the writer Martin. Kingsley, in fact, is one of my favorites. And I really didn’t keep up with their opinions of each other, but I do remember Kingsley once saying that Martin’s work gives the impression of too much conscious effort. That Martin seemed to feel he had to make every sentence read as if it were chiseled to perfection. This detracted from your big moments. Kingsley felt that most sentences and phrases were mere workhorses (my term). Every sentence shouldn’t read like they’re vying for entry into Bartlett’s. There’s an organic, extemporaneous feel to the development of story and character in Kingsley’s stuff. Martin comes across as much more premeditated, and I don’t think that appealed to his father.

    Like I say, I never paid much attention to this stuff, mostly because I’m not a big fan of Martin’s, although I like him well enough and can see he’s certainly has had his moments–that vignette on the character of Nicola Six at the beginning of London Fields stays with you, but, again, Kingsley’s literary expressions of misogyny, both real and put on for effect, has a patently human quality about it that makes something like Stanley and the Women almost forgivable, if you’re at all an ideologue with any sense of humor. Also, Kingsley played the curmudgeon. He liked to, and it became expected. I wouldn’t take a lot of his more outrageous pronouncements all that seriously. Martin, for the most part, didn’t. But I can see why that would hurt, and I think Kingsley did temper those comments, either at the time he made them or later.


    February 5, 2014
    • Good thoughts, Ted. I think you described them both well. I’m looking forward to comparing the two after I read Lucky Jim.


      February 5, 2014
      • Ted Fontenot #

        Stanley and the Women is really a very good novel, and the men don’t come out of it looking any better than the women. And The Old Devils may come close to being unique. It’s a love story, a romantic love story, between old people. It’s about trying to recapture the past. Moreover, it’s not just clever; you really believe and feel it because Kingsley does. I think it may be partly an expiation for the way he treated Martin’s mother, although the love object in The Old Devils has the physical attributes of Elizabeth Jane Howard. Like the Bob Dylan song, he threw it all away, and he came to deeply regret that.


        February 5, 2014
  4. Rynzi #

    Reblogged this on Where My 7 Dreams Grow….


    February 5, 2014
  5. I love them both. Lucky Jim is such a masterpiece though; I wouldn’t like to try and live up to it!


    February 5, 2014
  6. ‘For me, a writer placing himself into his novel as a secondary character is pretty funny, although perhaps a bit self-indulgent.’ Definitely agree; Santiago Roncagliolo does it too (as many other writers), but with enough sarcasm to eliminate the feeling of self-indulgence. It’s not metafiction if it’s only a cameo appearance.


    February 5, 2014
  7. Reblogged this on Forget the Viagra, Pass Me a Carrot and commented:
    I have read both father and son – and did not know this about them. 101 books has some very interesting posts and the two cats cuddling deserve the aah factor.


    February 8, 2014
  8. Good work…


    February 12, 2014
  9. Sometimes it’s difficult to work with another writer even if their family. When I write I know which way the novel should go.
    Darrell Case


    April 16, 2014

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