Every new novel by Martin Amis now faces its own sort of test, it seems: it must be either his best or sign of a decline. Either way, it must move out of the shadow of his most famous novels, his personality, his famous friends, his famous father, his famous life. Each is, in a sense, a little like he was himself when he debuted with The Rachel Papers, and had to make his name, apart from his father. For this reason, I found I could empathize with Mark O’Connell at Slate when he said he wished, for a moment, that he could read this novel as if it were by an entirely unknown writer, and evaluate it that way.
For all that, I think it is better not to—better instead to see it as a part of a group of books in the neighborhood of this one — Time’s Arrow, his most famous of these thus far, twenty-five years in the past; a nonfiction book, Koba the Dread; and the novel House of Meetings. We should think of them as a group, along with all of his novels, and also think of why we do this to our writers — ask them to perform their personality for us in public, and then, when they do, to hold it against them. We should ask why we ask them to challenge themselves aesthetically, and when they do, tell them they’ve abandoned us as readers.
The editors at the Barnes and Noble Review asked me to take a long look at the newest Martin Amis novel, and I did, with pleasure.