Martin Amis’ new novel
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.
Selections from The Paris Review
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.
— Joan Didion, on the rituals of writing: (Fall/Winter 1978)
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.
— Joyce Carol Oates, on productivity: (Fall/Winter 1978)
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)