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Renowned British novelist Martin Amis dies aged 73

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Renowned British novelist Martin Amis has died at the age of 73.

The author died of oesophageal cancer on Friday at his home in Lake Worth, Florida, his wife the writer Isabel Fonseca said.

It was the same disease that killed his close friend, the journalist Christopher Hitchens.

Amis published 15 novels and is best known for his books Money: A Suicide Note and London Fields.

“We are devastated at the death of our author and friend, Martin Amis: novelist, essayist, memoirist, critic, stylist supreme,” his publisher Vintage Books said.

“For 40 years Martin Amis bestrode the world of UK publishing: first by defining what it meant to be a literary wunderkind by releasing his first novel at just 24; influencing a generation of prose stylists; and often summing up entire eras with his books, perhaps most notably with his classic novel, Money.

“He continually engaged with current events and the contemporary world, never afraid to tackle the biggest issues and questions of the day, in books including The Second Plane and his essay collection, The Rub of Time.

“At the same time his work often explored key periods in history, notably the Holocaust, which he wrote about uniquely and powerfully in novels such as Time’s Arrow and The Zone of Interest.

“Throughout it all, his love of literature shone fiercely: Experience, The War Against Cliche and others all brought a light up to the world he’d inhabited his entire life.”

Martin Amis was willing to examine the sordid side of ‘Cool Britannia’ – and to criticise

Martin Amis was very much a legend in his own lifetime.

Novels like Money and London Fields looked at the seamy side of London in the Cool Britannia era. He was a big fan of snooker. He had an alter ego who ate fast food and misbehaved in various ways.

He summed up that period in which he lived so very well, of getting over the baby boom, of Britain rediscovering itself as perhaps not as important as it had been, but certainly as a country very proud of its literary heritage.

And of course one has to remember that Martin Amis was also a considerable critic in his own right.

It has to be said, in the last decade or so, as he got increasingly involved in writing about 20th century history, he hasn’t perhaps had the same acclaim as those of his generation like Salman Rushdie or Ian McEwan.

But they were very much a gang together, and of course with the late Christopher Hitchens as well, Martin Amis’s closest friend.

And it’s an irony indeed that he has now died of oesophageal cancer like Christopher. They were both extremely heavy smokers.

Indeed, I remember traveling with Martin Amis in the press pack when we were covering the end of Tony Blair’s premiership, on one occasion we had to go into the chancellor’s office in Germany in berlin, where no smoking was allowed. And Martin Amis got so desperate that he was seen eating his cigarettes.

He was also known as man about town, with his velvet jackets. He was very conscious of being short and had an alter ego Little Keith, which was a parody of himself.

My favourite novel is his first one, The Rachel Papers, which is always said to be very autobiographical, about his early life, getting girlfriends – as many girlfriends as possible.

What I liked about it is while it was brilliantly written and extremely funny, it also had a great deal of compassion.

He was a very self-aware person, always willing to criticise and examine his own motivation, and perhaps his own lesser motives as well as to praise himself.

Amis was the son of the well-known novelist Kingsley Amis, who came to fame with his book Lucky Jim and died in 1995.

The Booker Prize tweeted: “We are saddened to hear that Martin Amis, one of the most acclaimed and discussed novelists of the past 50 years, has died.

Sir Kingsley Amis with his son Martin
Image:
Sir Kingsley Amis with his son Martin

“Our thoughts are with his family and friends.”

Amis was twice listed for the Booker Prize for his novels Time’s Arrow and Yellow Dog. His memoir Experience was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.

The author was born on 25 August 1949 in Oxford. He read nothing but comic books until his stepmother, the novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard, introduced him to Jane Austen, who he often cited as his earliest influence.

He studied English at Exeter College, Oxford, and graduated in 1971 with a congratulatory first.

Amis was part of a group of writers including Hitchens, Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan and Julian Barnes.

He is survived by his wife, Ms Fonseca, three daughters, Delilah Jeary, Fernanda Amis and Clio Amis, and two sons, Louis and Jacob Amis, as well as four grandchildren and his brother.

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