Martin Amis' Controversies

His new novel is being savaged and every comment he makes drives the media crazy. How did the former literary “It” boy fall out of favor

Sipa Press

Sipa Press

Martin Amis vs. Islam

In August 2006, Martin Amis sat down for a wide-ranging interview in which his lips were perhaps loosened by too much wine. “What can we do to raise the price of them doing this?” Amis said. “There’s a definite urge—don’t you have it?—to say, ‘The Muslim community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order.’ What sort of suffering? Not letting them travel. Deportation—further down the road. Curtailing of freedoms. Strip-searching people who look like they’re from the Middle East or from Pakistan. ... Discriminatory stuff, until it hurts the whole community and they start getting tough with their children.” Critic Terry Eagleton likened the remarks to “the ramblings of a British National Party thug,” and Amis was widely criticized and eventually backpedaled. “When I made this rather stupid suggestion, or talked about the urge to make the stupid suggestion to make Muslims put their house in order, I was at the peak of my anger,” he said in March 2008, about an aborted terrorist plot. “Everyone else’s anger gets respected all over the place but not that of a normally very peaceful British novelist.”

David Levenson / Getty Images; AP Photo

Martin Amis vs. Women

Huffy that the British “glamour model” Katie Price—also known as Jordan—outsells acclaimed British novelists with her novels and autobiographies, Amis complained, “She has no waist... an interesting face... but all we are really worshipping is two bags of silicone.” The question of whether he would approve of her book sales if she strapped on a girdle remains unanswered. And his string of beautiful girlfriends has not helped him fend off the sexism charge. Amis also blamed the sexual revolution for his sister’s death.

David Levenson / Getty Images; Dave M. Benett / Getty Images

Martin Amis vs. Friends

Amis fired his agent of 22 years, Pat Kavanagh, in favor of the infamous New York agent Andrew Wylie in the early ‘90s. Wylie was able to secure a huge £500,000 advance for Amis’s book, The Information, but it came at a high price: Amis’ best friend. Kavanagh was the wife of longtime Amis pal and novelist Julian Barnes. Barnes severed all ties with Amis in an angry letter.

AP Photo; iStockphoto

Martin Amis vs. Old People

“How is society going to support this silver tsunami? There’ll be a population of demented very old people, like an invasion of terrible immigrants, stinking out the restaurants and cafes and shops,” Amis said of the aging population last month. He outraged both pro- and anti-euthanasia activists with his joking in favor of mass euthanasia. “There should be a booth on every corner where you could get a martini and a medal,” he said, something he thought about when his stepfather was dying last year.

Central Press / Getty Images

Martin Amis vs. Imperfect Teeth

Insecure about his teeth in his youth, Amis spent $20,000 on extensive dental work, including the removal of his rotting upper teeth. He denied he had the work done out of vanity. In an interview about his autobiography, Amis said, “In one of those soul-searching media pieces at the time, I remember Mark Lawson saying, 'There has been a lot written about his teeth, and maybe we should have been told more about the teeth to make sure we got that right.' And I would like to say to Mark, 'Here's more about the teeth, and perhaps you can now see that it wasn't your business.' Tell my dentist that it was cosmetic." British people nevertheless saw it as an act of betrayal.

AP Photo

Martin Amis vs. Nukes

Amis picked a safer villain to tussle with in the ‘80s and early ‘90s: nuclear weapons. "Nuclear weapons repel all thought, perhaps because they can end all thought,” he wrote. His short story collection Einstein’s Monsters fixates on the bomb, and his book Koba the Dread calls out lefties Amis considered too soft on the Soviet Union, including his old friend Christopher Hitchens. In the mid-‘70s, Amis wrote, "It was considered tasteless or mean-spirited to be too hard on the Soviet Union. No one wanted to be seen as a 'red-baiter'…” But survivors made clear that “a true description of the Soviet Union exactly resembled a demented slander of the Soviet Union."

David Long, Camera Press / Retna

Martin Amis vs. the Name Keith

“Now, what is it, or rather—to use an Amis-ism—what is it about Martin Amis and the name 'Keith'?” asks the British journal Literary Review. Keiths have populated several Amis works, including Dead Babies (1975), London Fields (1989), and his latest, The Pregnant Widow. At least in his newest book, “This year's Keith is, it must instantly be said, a cut or two above his debauched and conniving forebears.”

Lawrence Bruce, Camera Press / Retna

Martin Amis vs. Neologisms

Just before the fifth anniversary of 9/11, Amis analyzed the new era of terrorism and Islamic extremism. He used the occasion to attempt to coin yet another neologism, “the age of horrorism,” which was widely mocked.

AP Photo; Retna

Martin Amis vs. Himself

Just about everyone prefers Amis’ earlier work. Amis’ Money was picked by Time magazine as one of the best novels written between 1923 and 2005. Time’s Arrow, published in 1991, was in the running for the Man Booker Prize. But following the publication of the controversial book The Information—and his forays further into politics—reviews of Amis’ work went downhill. Of 2003’s Yellow Dog, Tibor Fischer wrote that the book "isn't bad as in not very good or slightly disappointing. It's not-knowing-where-to-look bad. … It's like your favourite uncle being caught in a school playground, masturbating." Last month, Amis reportedly pulled out of the Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival because the newspaper wrote a scathing review of The Pregnant Widow.