The Martin Amis Controversy Primer

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Martin Amis is no stranger to controversy. The 60-year-old British author and so-called “public intellectual” is perhaps better known in British newspapers for pissing people off than for publishing. Thankfully his must recent book The Pregnant Widow

is sexy-funny enough to launch him back into the headlines for the right reasons — but lest we get too comfortable focusing on the literature, let’s take a look back at Amis’s most divisive moments.

Martin Amis and…

Women!

In October 2009, Martin Amis first opened fire on the British “glamour model” formerly known as Jordan, whose autobiographies and ghostwritten novels have consistently outsold his own. In typically charming fashion, he described Katie Price as having “no waist, no arse … an interesting face … but all we are really worshiping is two bags of silicone.” Though one might think he’d learned his lesson about opening his mouth about women, this year, he’s also been quoted as saying that “(women have) almost got too many powers for the harmony of their own lives.” Thanks for the “almost,” Martin.

Muslims!

In September 2006, Amis was widely quoted as saying that, “The Muslim community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order.” He did preface the statement with “there’s a definite urge to say it,” in an attempt to avoid ownership of the idea, but when he goes on to list off what exactly “one” would mean by this items including,”Not letting them travel…(and) Strip-searching people who look like they’re from the Middle East or from Pakistan…” It makes it pretty clear that Amis has put a bit of thought into how exactly his snappy quote could become public policy. A later slam frames his issues with Islam in a considerably more pretentious way, because after all, writing about a teenager’s sex life is the epitome of intelligence: “I feel an intellectual distance to Islam.”

Marxists!

After Amis’s controversial comments on Muslims made front-page news across the UK, Marxist theorist Terry Eagleton smelled blood, or at least an easy way to get his new book into the headlines in fall 2007. In the preface to Ideology: An Introduction, he attempts to take down Amis via a pretty virulent screed against his father, Kingsley, who he calls, “a racist, anti-Semitic boor, a drink-sodden, self- hating reviler of women, gays and liberals.” In a twist that Eagleton clearly thought was clever, he concluded his character assassination with “Amis fils has clearly learnt more from him than how to turn a shapely phrase.” In the same piece, he calls Martin a “British National Party thug,” which essentially amounts to calling him a big ole racist.

Amis, at the time a recent appointment to Eagleton’s academic home Manchester University, responded with his characteristic lack of restraint. In an interview with the Telegraph, Amis calls Eagleton ”slovenly,” ”a disgrace to his profession,” and made up of ”a not very charming combination of ill will and laziness.” Which is, to be fair, a not a very charming response.

Old people!

Despite himself being a prospective AARP member (well, if he were American), Amis managed to insult the elderly in January of this year in a way that only an author of his caliber could imagine:

“There’ll be a population of demented very old people, like an invasion of terrible immigrants, stinking out the restaurants and cafes and shops.”

His solution? Kill the olds!

“There should be a booth on every corner where you could get a martini and a medal,” Amis said, later clarified to mean a euthanasia booth, not just that bar on your block that’s always filled with drunk old guys.

Other authors and famous people!

Clearly pissing off whole groups of people wasn’t enough for Amis, as he’s also gotten into one-on-one wars of words (well, when one-on-one-plus-newspaper-audience) with a number of other UK celebs. After Amis published an article in the Guardian about how he isn’t “controversial-on-purpose” to sell more books, Anna Ford, best known as a hot and feisty newsreader back in the ’70s, published an open letter to him in response basically telling him to quit whining. For an extra-cruel twist-of-the-knife, she reveals that Amis visited her dying husband (Amis’s BFF), shortly before he died, not to pay his respects but rather to kill time before a flight. Amis responded — again, publicly, in a widely-read newspaper — that she was undermining the memory of her late husband. Probably just what her daughter, and Amis’s goddaughter, would want to hear.

A similar battle of words took place between Amis and his long-time bromantic partner Christopher Hitchens in 2002, when Amis accused him of being a Stalin apologist in his nonfiction work Koba the Dread. Hitchens responded in, yes, another open letter which concludes in a marvelous guilt-inducing way: “I’m sorry all over again that you have written on the subject in such a way as to give pleasure to those who don’t love you, as I do.”

Have these people ever heard of, you know, letters? Ones that aren’t published?