'Utterly compelling' Guardian
Life...is shapeless, it does not point to and gather round anything, it does not cohere. Artistically, it's dead. Life's dead.
So begins a love letter to life, a resuscitation of sorts, encountering vibrant characters from Saul Bellow, to Philip Larkin to Iris Murdoch and Elizabeth Jane Howard, and to the person who captivated Amis' twenties, the alluringly amoral Phoebe Phelps.
Amis addresses our burning questions: how to live, how to grieve, and how to die?
Amis (The Zone of Interest) frames his consistently intelligent and compulsively readable "novelized autobiography," as he calls it, as a guide to writers. Along the way, the author crafts a dynamic series of paeans to three of his heroes Saul Bellow, who became a kind of father figure; Christopher Hitchens, one of his best friends; and Philip Larkin, his father, Kingsley's, lifelong friend amid a wide-ranging survey of his own life. The book opens in 2016 with Amis living in Brooklyn with his wife, writer Isabel Fonseca, contemplating his own mortality, with a meta introduction to his reader (whom he imagines as an aspiring writer), but quickly turns to the lives of Bellow, Hitchens, and Larkin, and, eventually, their deaths: Bellow slips into dementia. Hitchens fights a losing battle with cancer. Larkin dies of cancer as well. Amis also relates the fascinating story of an early love of his, Phoebe Phelps, an enigmatic figure whom he admits was the inspiration for his first novel, The Rachel Papers, and whom he remained obsessed with for decades. There is much else on offer: critical aper us and insightful digressions on Austen, Conrad, Nabokov, and other writers; an elegant gloss on the history of the modern novel; and opinions on Hitler, the Soviet Union, 9/11, the refugee crisis, and President Trump ("the high-end bingo caller who occupies pole position in the GOP"). Amis again proves himself to be as savvy a thinker as he is a writer as he applies his insight and curiosity as a novelist to this stylish and genuine account of his development as a writer. The result reaches the heights of his finest work.