On Thursday, Martin Amis mustered his sardonic wit for the first of this semester’s “The New Salon: Writers in Conversation” series, put on by New York University’s Creative Writing Program. Amis, one of the distinguished writers-in-residence at NYU’s Creative Writing Program, is a British novelist best known for novels including “Money,” “London Fields” and “Time’s Arrow,” the latter of which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.
He was introduced by fellow member of the creative writing department, Darin Strauss, who quickly asked him his opinion on the current U.S. election. Amis scored some early points with the crowd by recalling his experience at the last Iowa caucus, Rick Perry’s now infamous “oops” gaffe, as well as a moment where he likened Mitt Romney to a porn star. Strauss then probed him about his interest with Stalin and Hitler, both of whom Amis has written about considerably. This prompted Amis to separate Stalin and Hitler cleanly. One was, in his estimation, entirely obvious: Stalin. The other was incomprehensible: Hitler. He espoused a theory that Hitler had managed to come to power by glorifying his own failure, which boggled him.
Then, perhaps in an effort to acquaint already committed Amis fans with some of his less obvious canon, he read from his 2012 effort “Lionel Asbo: State of England” instead of one of his more esteemed works. As preamble, he asserted happiness is “usually very dull” and that it “writes white” on the page. His chosen reading, an extract describing the birth of a central character’s daughter, was an impressive counterexample to this very assertion.
During the Q&A portion of the evening, a member of the audience asked Amis to elaborate on an earlier moment when, in an almost offhand manner, he mentioned that in fiction today, social realism is “the thing and everything else is froth.” This comment caused a minor ripple of distress among an audience composed predominantly of hopeful MFA students. Amis, in reply, remained quite convinced of his view, saying “in the long historical struggle, social realism has won.” It does strike an unexpected note, however, considering that he is a writer more often compared with Nabokov than Dickens. Not to mention that he is the author of a novel written entirely backwards.
“The New Salon: Writers in Conversation” series continues on Feb. 11th at 7:00 p.m. at the Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House with Samantha Hunt and Christopher Sorrentino.
A version of this article appeared in the Jan. 25th print edition. Email Bertram Proctor at [email protected]