The War Against Cliché

by Martin Amis.

Lit-Crit as is should be writ.

The War Against Cliché

I first read this book in 2001. It is an anthology of Martin Amis's Literary Criticism pieces for various publications.

I hope Mr Amis never reviews any of my books. He can be pretty scathing at times. But he knows what he's talking about, and he can also be pretty damn funny. I don't know where he gets it from.

Some select snippets:

  • One of the few things I would rather run a mile than do is have an Angus Wilson character over for the evening.
  • It would be futile to summarize the plot [of The Philosopher's Pupil by Iris Murdoch]. Life is too short. The book is too long.
  • A jangled, surreal (and much shorter) version of the book could be obtained by reading the italic type and omitting all the roman.
  • War [by J.M.G. le Clézio] is such a torment to read that one yearns for the kind of nouveau-roman pranking whereby (say) the final 150 pages are left blank in order to symbolize the void of late capitalism.
  • Perhaps the thing about last words is not how good they are but whether you can get them out.
  • The main effort [of editing], however, has gone into The Ancient Mariner, which Coleridge never tired of worsening
  • As Northrop Frye has said, the only evidence we have of Shakespeare’s existence, apart from the poems and plays, is the portrait of a man who was clearly an idiot.
  • Certain friends of theirs always kept packed suitcases by the front door so that they could claim to be off on vacation if the Lowrys horribly appeared, hoping to stay.
  • A [Thomas] Harris fan from way back, I got through the thing [Hannibal] in the end, with many a weary exhalation, with much dropping of the head and rolling of the eyes, and with considerable fanning of the armpits. In evaluating a novel with a lot of pig interest (man-eating hogs, bred for savagery) it seems apt to bellow the assurance that Hannibal is, on all levels, a snorting, rooting, oinking porker, complete with twinkling trotters and twirlaround tail.
  • [Lee Harvey] Oswald’s life was not a cry of pain so much as a squawk for attention.
  • The dangers of writing concertedly about sex are numerous, and Roth skirts none of them.
  • To begin with, Cities of the Red Night reads like a new departure for William Burroughs: it has a plot, it has characters, and you can just about tell what’s going on.
  • After all, prejudices are clichés: they are secondhand hatreds.

Very good.

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