Writer Martin Amis at home in London on April 5, 1995. Photo: David Levenson/Getty Images
Remembering the Life and Loves of Literary Bad Boy Martin Amis
The legendary British author has died at 73. His absence will be keenly felt, but Amis leaves behind a book shelf’s worth of novels, including 'London Fields', 'Money' and 'Success', filled with shambolic anti-heroes raising a finger at society. / BY Antonia Whyatt / May 29th, 2023
Martin Amis, the most glamorous of London’s literary bad boys, has died of cancer at age 73. His absence will be keenly felt, but he leaves behind a book shelf’s worth of novels, including London Fields, Money and Success, filled with shambolic anti-heroes raising a finger at society.
Dubbed “the Mick Jagger of the book world,” Martin Amis’ louche, cuban-heeled, pouty-lipped presence added a frisson of sexiness to London’s literary scene in the ’70s. However, when he first left Oxford and was writing The Rachel Papers at age 23, Amis was in a girlfriend-less drought. He credited the legendary journalist Tina Brown, who went on to edit Tatler, Vanity Fair and the New Yorker, for unleashing his sex appeal. They had a short-lived, but intense, affair while Brown was still at Oxford. “Tina, sort of, saved me, because she was very pretty and ebullient and publicly affectionate. She got the scent off me and gave me confidence.”
After shaking off the pall of feeling undesirable and of merely being the son of the famous novelist Kingsley Amis, Martin spent the next decade blazing through a string of literary “it girls,” including Winston Churchill’s granddaughter Emma Soames, Mary Furness and brilliant biographer Claire Tomalin. He had flirtations and furtive affairs with many, many more, even catching the eye of feminist Germaine Greer. In 1976, she wrote a 30,000-word love letter to Amis, who left her “helpless with desire.” Although she never sent it, the letter came to light in 2015 when her archives were opened, and it captures his appeal.
“It astonishes me with that tobacco hair and those tangled black eyelashes that you do not have brown eyes. Your eyes … are cool-coloured, sort of air force blue-grey, and strangely unreflecting. You slide them away from most things and look at people through your thick eyelids, under your hair, your eyebrows and your lashes. You look at mouths more than eyes. Is it because you hate to look up? It is very shy and graceful and tantalising, as well you know,” Greer wrote.
But his ferocious intellect and piercing prose is what penetrated their hearts –as well as his bad-boy ways — he always had a cigarette in hand and notoriously had a pinball machine instead of a stove in the kitchen of his Chelsea flat.
One of Amis’ greatest loves was the writer and famed atheist Christopher Hitchens. Theirs was the deep, enduring love of intellectual kinship. “My friendship with the Hitch has always been perfectly cloudless. It is a love whose month is ever May,” he wrote in the Independent in 2007. They were literary celebrities, along with poet, essayist and broadcaster Clive James, Julian Barnes and Ian McEwan, with occasional appearances by Salman Rushdie, lighting up pubs and parties with their sharp observations and clever quips.