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.
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.