A Spectacle of Literary Envy: The Information by Martin Amis
Show me a writer who is free from the many nagging, teething forms of literary jealousy and I’ll show you a liar. It haunts all of us, at our deepest core, and this is a fact that Martin Amis clearly wanted to investigate in his novel The Information. He wanted to sidle on right up next to its cage and peer in through the bars, to see the glint of its fangs.
This was a rereading for me (a relative rarity), as I already frolicked my way through the exquisite prose a few years back. I’ll be blunt about it, too: I fucking love Martin Amis. If watching every single YouTube video having “Martin Amis” as keywords is an obsession, then call me obsessed. Amis himself has talked about experiencing the same sensation when first discovering Vladimir Nabokov’s work as I had when I read his: you feel a great tremor in your being, and realize that not only will you have to devour everything this writer has ever written (I’ve enjoyed no less than 18 of Martin’s books), but reread them as well. You get the sentiment that the writer is speaking directly to you (an illusion, of course, but a tingling one), and you want to engage in that dialogue between minds.
Like much of Amis’s fiction, The Information is dark, bitter, and gut-bustingly hilarious. I wouldn’t call it one of his must-reads for an M.A. virgin, but if you’ve dipped your toes into his oeuvre already, it’s totally worth a gander.
Our hero is Richard Tull, a failed but persistent novelist (his newest book, titled Untitled, seems to be such a slog that it turns anyone who attempts to read it gravely ill) is overcome with the sting of jealousy for his dear friend and fiendish rival, Gwyn Barry. Gwyn, unsurprisingly, is a successful novelist—almost comically successful, despite Richard thinking his books are garbage. There’s a lot on Richard Tull’s failure in The Information; it pops up early and sticks around until the end. Jealousy, crime, pornography, and violence all make heavy appearances, too. But above all, this book is about the lust for fame, and what that does to those horny enough to fight for it.
I feel the aforementioned tremor every single bloody time I pick up a Martin Amis book, fiction or otherwise. It’s as if I’m a great and experienced composer scanning sheet music and hearing the symphony in his head; but the last thing I want to do is keep it my little secret. I want the whole literate world to read Martin Amis, to bask in the style his own novelist father called “relentlessly original” (though not as a compliment) and to appreciate these sentences, this music.
Ah, who am I kidding? The Information is fantastic. Sure, it’s not the ideal place to start on your own Martin Amis journey, but I reread it with glee, and had to shake off my own literary envy at the verve and vigor of his sentences. Though he’s getting on in years now, I kind of want to be Martin Amis. He has cultivated a Muse-given gift over the years, one I’m not so sure I can mimic. But all that jealousy aside, I like to turn up the music (that word-gushing symphony,) lean forward, and type away.
To quote from The Information's first page: "Swing low in your weep ship, with your tear scans and your sob probes, and you would mark them." While Martin Amis's writing has never moved me all the way to tears, I do like to keep a couple tissues ready, just in case.