My first encounter with the laws of woke took place in a London bookshop. Compendium Books was one of the glories of Camden: it served as the great alternative bookshop in London. At the entrance you found a formidable sample of fanzines, specialized magazines and musical books from unknown publishers, all selected by the enthusiastic Chris Render, who used to be in the box.
Once you stocked up on musical material, you went to the main area, scrupulously subdivided into shelves arranged alphabetically. I was shocked not to find in "fiction" the novels of Martin Amis; he knew the translations of Anagrama but intended to read it in the original language. Chris twisted the gesture: "We took a vote and decided not to sell Martin's works. You know, he's the son of Kingsley Amis, a misogynist and racist writer." So, I thought, the sins of the father defile the children.
I don't think that veto affected Martin, then—excuse the cliché—one of the "fashionable authors." In the newspaper descriptions, a certain resemblance to Mick Jagger was invoked. During the culture battles, Amis formed a tandem with another Oxford graduate, dynamite Christopher Hitchens. And yes, we could draw some parallels with the Glimmer Twins, the pseudonym of Jagger and Keith Richards for their production work within the Rolling Stones of the good times.
But they would not coincide on the same barricade. Apart from the obligatory reflections on Bob Dylan, neither Amis nor Hitchens showed much interest in rock and pop. But they all shared a generational — alas, postwar — fascination with the United States: all four would end up settling in that country and marrying Americans. There were degrees in his Americanphilia: Jagger, always skeptical, continues to live here and there, a jet set, and Hitchens, who joined his powers of conviction to the warmongering advisers of George W. Bush, turned his obtaining of American nationality into an embarrassing spectacle.
In Martin's case, one factor was the continuing hostility of the London press to the Amis. Every time Kingsley put out a book (and he was prolific), the newspapers sent reporters to interview him, hoping to provoke some misogynistic barbarity; It didn't work, the patriarch had other existential precautions.
Martin was more vulnerable. Secretly, he was detested for his precocity, his virtuosity, his hateful characters and, of course, his interesting life. A resentment that exploded in 1995, when she was divorcing and signed Andrew Wylie as a literary agent; with money obtained by what they call "The Jackal" he underwent a complex dental restoration in New York. Only in a medium as poisonous as the literary one can it be explained that this became a casus belli. Martin did not fix it when he claimed that his teeth were "as disastrous as those of Nabokov and Joyce".
It could be argued that, with his move to Brooklyn, the moralistic Martin triumphed, who relapsed in exploring the Holocaust or the figure of Stalin. And we lost the abrasive Amis of Money or Fields of London. A nasty xenophobia appeared when he suggested tightening the screws – threat of deportation, a ban on flying, street searches, limitation of freedoms – on the Islamic community in Britain. Compendium no longer exists but I imagine its booksellers shaking their heads: "We told you that the Amis were toxic."
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