I noticed something at the bottom of Martin Amis’ new essay in The New York Times on Philip Roth, that his upcoming novel has a name: The Zone of Interest.
I had known for some time that he was working on a novel about the Holocaust, his second on the subject if you include the most excellent Time’s Arrow — my favourite Amis novel, as it goes. But I was not aware of the title. Google informs me that this is slightly old news by now. In the FT in May, the structure of the thing was outlined, at least:
The new novel is set in an unnamed Auschwitz. Amis points out that there was a “whole other stratum in Auschwitz that consisted of wives of SS officers, including the commandant, and they had quite a well-developed social life – they had theatre and thés dansants … ”
The genesis of the work was what he calls a donné, a bolt from the blue “where a little throb goes through you and you think, this is the start of something I can sit down and write. It was a very counter-intuitive one. It was imagining love at first sight at Auschwitz.” The woman involved is the wife of the camp commandant; the man is the nephew of Martin Bormann, Hitler’s private secretary, who, says Amis, is a sort of liaison officer and “very much against the regime”.
There are three narrators: the commandant, the nephew and a member of the Sonderkommando, the Jewish units forced to help with the disposal of gas chamber victims.
A writer’s life is half ambition and half anxiety, and there has to be both. It is no good writing a novel and feeling fine, and it is no good writing a whole novel feeling miserable. It has to be both, that mixture of anxiety and ambition, and you get that with every novel, but more so when you write about these epics of human suffering. I felt that just as much when I wrote about the Gulag. Every writer knows what that is. The process goes… you have to think: ‘This novel I am writing is no good.’ Then you have to think: ‘All my novels are no good.’ And then, when you reach that point, you can begin.
Martin Amis (via goonlibrary)
The occasion was a rare joint appearance by Martin Amis, Ian McEwan and Salman Rushdie, the literary equivalent of a concert by the Three Tenors — or perhaps a friendlier version of the Yalta conference, with three longtime allies jostling to carve up whatever territory might still be controlled by big-dude British literary novelists of a certain age.
From debut novelist to outspoken critic, the writer Martin Amis meets his younger self in the BBC sound archive and discusses his reaction to what he hears with John Wilson.
Martin Amis achieved success at a young age. His debut novel “The Rachel Papers”, written in his 20s, won the same prize that had been awarded to his father Kingsley Amis. His success as a writer has continued with novels including “Money” and “London Fields” and collections of journalism and essays.
But the real life of Martin Amis has prompted as many headlines as his fiction. With stories about his earnings, his teeth, and more recently his views on Islam and elderly people, his name has regularly appeared in the papers and his opinions have often been controversial.
In the first of a new series of “Meeting Myself Coming Back”, Martin Amis hears clips from key moments in his life and discusses his reaction to them with John Wilson. In an honest and penetrating look back at his career, he discusses his achievements and his mistakes.
Then there is the business of surprise. I never know what is coming next. The phrase that sounds in the head changes when it appears on the page. Then I start probing it with a pen, finding new meanings. Sometimes I burst out laughing at what is happening as I twist and turn sentences. Strange business, all in all. One never gets to the end of it. That’s why I go on, I suppose. To see what the next sentences I write will be.
— Gore Vidal, on the pleasure of writing: (Autumn 1974)
Another thing I need to do, when I’m near the end of the book, is sleep in the same room with it. That’s one reason I go home to Sacramento to finish things. Somehow the book doesn’t leave you when you’re asleep right next to it. In Sacramento nobody cares if I appear or not. I can just get up and start typing.
Productivity is a relative matter. And it’s really insignificant: What is ultimately important is a writer’s strongest books. It may be the case that we all must write many books in order to achieve a few lasting ones—just as a young writer or poet might have to write hundreds of poems before writing his first significant one.
I type out beginnings and they’re awful, more of an unconscious parody of my previous book than the breakaway from it that I want. I often have to write a hundred pages or more before there’s a paragraph that’s alive. Okay, I say to myself, that’s your beginning, start there; that’s the first paragraph of the book.
— Philip Roth, on beginning a new novel: (Fall, 1984)
Born in 1927, in Germany, I was twelve years old when the war started and seventeen years old when it was over. I am overloaded with this German past. I’m not the only one; there are other authors who feel this. If I had been a Swedish or a Swiss author I might have played around much more, told a few jokes and all that. That hasn’t been possible; given my background, I have had no other choice.
— Guenter Grass, on the role of literature in Germany’s coming to terms with its past: (Summer 1991)
Martin Amis discussed the mild anti-Semitism of his own father, and gave his thoughts on Israel. He read from Saul Bellow’s book on Israel, and suggests that there is a great deal of anxiety among Jews about the future of Israel.
Christopher Hitchens, who only discovered he was Jewish in 1989, talked about the place of Judaism in history: about Voltaire, suspicion, Israel, and the Jewish diaspora.
Martin Amis then discussed the Jewish concept of manhood, before going on to contemplate the effect of 9/11 on the Jewish community.
Hitchens then touched on some moments that betray a prejudice against Jews that still lingers even after the Holocaust, including the claims made in America in 1989 that Jewish doctors were deliberately injecting black babies with Aids. He suggest that prejudice against Jews is different from other kinds, because it takes a pseudo-intellectual, as opposed to superficial and ignorant form.
Amis then sought to define the actual concept of anti-Semitism, before Hitchens considered the perception of Jews as masters of finance.