I was never a diehard Amis fanboy (and it was almost always boys) at the level of some of my contemporaries. But when I first moved to London in the early 90s I embarked on a major catch-up session, reading everything from The Rachel Papers to London Fields in the course of a few weeks.
What dampened my ardour a little was not just the declining quality of the books themselves through the coming decades (although that is evident) but the fact that Amis had become a bit of a punchline, with the strange story of the new agent and the sweary letter from his ex-friend Julian Barnes (also wife of his old agent) and, yes, his dental bill. These days I’m scrupulous about distinguishing the Art from the Artist and as such I really can’t be doing with numpties chopping bits of Eric Gill statues, his crimes notwithstanding. Back then there was an element of self-branding going on, ostentatiously retrieving my copy of Dead Babies from my ICA carrier bag as I strap-hung from Brixton to Victoria. And then the name on the front became just a tad embarrassing, and I transferred my affections to McEwan and Ishiguro and Winterson and more...
So, even though I sneered when the BBC kept the Phil/Holly saga at the top of the bulletin, even on Radio 4, even as the news of Amis’s demise was trickling in, I’d have to admit that we’re all susceptible to a bit of celebrity gossip once in a while.
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