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‘The first writer I ever met’ … Martin Amis in 1975.
‘The first writer I ever met’ … Martin Amis in 1975. Photograph: Express/Getty Images
‘The first writer I ever met’ … Martin Amis in 1975. Photograph: Express/Getty Images

William Boyd on his friend Martin Amis: ‘He was ferociously intelligent – and very funny’

He saw the world’s cruel absurdities through a comic lens, writes Boyd, who recalls his very first meeting with Amis – and explains why his unmistakable voice will never be forgotten

John Self on Amis: ‘He stamped his style over a generation’
Geoff Dyer on Amis: ‘Mick Jagger in literary form’

The awful news of Martin Amis’s death prompts a rush of memories. I first met him in 1969, in Paris, when we both found ourselves staying in the same apartment on the Île Saint-Louis for a few days. I was 17, Martin was 20. I only realised who this Martin guy was four years later when his first novel, The Rachel Papers, appeared. In a strange but real sense, he was the first writer I had ever met. And thus began an acquaintance as an avid reader and later as a friend.

The remarkable thing about that first novel was the utter confidence and distinctiveness of the narrative voice. Martin found his style at the very beginning of his career as a writer and it never changed. That voice he had defined and charged everything else he wrote – fiction, essays, journalism, memoirs. Very few writers can be instantly identified by a sentence or two of their prose – Laurence Sterne, Charles Dickens, James Joyce, DH Lawrence, Vladimir Nabokov – and Martin precociously joined that elite group and stayed there.

His style became his unmistakable signature. And there was also the wit and humour. He identified himself as a comic writer – however serious his subject matter. He saw the world and its cruel absurdities through a comic lens. He was a very, very funny writer as well as a ferociously intelligent one and that should never be forgotten.

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Because of the wonderful energies and original allure of his writing style, Martin became, over the decades that followed his first novel, a kind of exemplar of the contemporary British novelist, though he was not necessarily happy in that role. Having Kingsley Amis as his father also contributed: Martin was the one easiest to point to; the one easiest to place on a pedestal. And with good reason, in fact, because Martin was inimitable as a writer – though many people tried to imitate him, of course. That is his great legacy to literature and our great loss.

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