The Bad Boy Of Belles-Lettres

by Dish Staff

Sam Leith ponders the British press’ vexed relationship with Martin Amis:

Has there in living memory been a writer whom we (by which I mean the papers, mostly) so assiduously seek out for comment – we task him to review tennis, terrorism, pornography, the state of the nation – and whom we are then so keen to denounce as worthless? In recent years his public interventions on everything from Islamist terror to population demographics have caused mini shitstorms; and critics seem to take a particular, giant-killing glee in slamming his fiction. Setting out to write a retrospective essay on his work and reputation, the implied title you find yourself reaching for is “in defence of … ” It’s as if, and in answer to some inchoate public need, we demand of Amis that he say things in public so we can all agree on what an ass he is.

Pivoting off of Leith’s essay, Emily Temple wonders why America has so few literary bomb-throwers:

As I read the article, I couldn’t help but be slightly jealous. It’s true that Amis is a singular fellow, but it seems like all of the real contemporary enfants terribles in the literary world come to us from overseas. Michel Houellebecq, Salman Rushdie, V.S. Naipaul, Will Self (just read this delightfully snooty Q&A), etc. Where oh where is the American Martin Amis? (The fact that Amis somewhat recently moved to Brooklyn is not relevant; he is not ours.) Is there a writer we love to hate? Or one who picks fights with equal glee?

No. You know who we’ve got? Franzen. Whiny, whiny Jonathan Franzen. Our hatred of him is there, but it’s utterly joyless. We don’t love to hate him. He just kind of pisses everyone off. And unlike their reactions to Amis, which are frequently ambivalent and all over the map, the critics pretty much universally enjoy Franzen’s writing – which leaves us arguing about whether or not he’s right about Twitter.