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Friday, April 14, 2006

Martin Amis and Mohamed Atta

Posted by on April 14 at 12:05 PM

It’s appropriate that responses to Sept. 11 from filmmakers and writers are proliferating during the unbelievably weird trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, who doubtless will spawn some kind of takeoff himself.

The latest comes from Martin Amis, whose new book, coming out in the fall, imagines The Last Days of Mohamed Atta in a short story:

As explained by his publisher, Jonathan Cape, the tale can be summarised like this: “Accompanied by one of the ‘muscle’ Saudis, Mohamed Atta drove to Portland, Maine, on 10 September 2001. Noone knows why. In ‘The Last Days of Mohamed Atta’, Martin Amis provides a rationale for Atta’s insouciant detour, and for other lacunae in the ‘planes operation’. We follow Atta on that day: from his small-hour awakening in the budget hotel room in Portland, all the way to 8:46am - and beyond.”

Also in the book, which is titled House of Meetings after the novella that opens it, is a short story called In the Palace of the End:

“In the Palace of the End” is narrated by one of the doubles for a Middle Eastern tyrant - clearly a figure such as Saddam Hussein or his demented son and heir, Uday.

“The double divides his day between epic torture and epic lovemaking with picked beauties - all of it filmed for the delectation of the dictator,” according to the publisher’s blurb.

It continues: “He also has a third obligation: he must duplicate on his person the wounds sustained by the dictator in the almost-daily attempts on his life.”

Rumours have long circulated in the Middle East that Saddam Hussein, the now deposed Iraqi dictator, did, indeed, have up to four doubles, though none has ever surfaced.

CommentsRSS icon

At this point, Amis is like the fat Elvis -- over-the-top, garish and tasteless, but still so phenomenally talented that it's impossible to look away.

No gold lamé, though.

I love how all the author photos show Martin Amis sneering, or possessed of a steely, imposing seriousness. I saw him read in Seattle a few years ago, and he's the most harmless little man you could ever imagine.

I've never been able to get into Amis's fiction, but his essays and reviews are great (as is his memoir, which is a bizarre mixture of pathetic self-deception and lovely prose). I love any writer who'll employ a paragraph-long tennis analogy to compare Nabokov to James Joyce.

Can't hold a candle to his daddy, though.

I find Kingsley kind of meh and toothless. Lucky Jim was all right, but nothing to write home about. For me Amis is like an intellectual Irvine Welsh. And yes, Andrew, his nonfiction is phenomenal.

Well, except Kingsley Amis could write English sentences. Welsh can't. Amis the senior's the best British novelist of the past half-century is all, and by a wide margin the most talented alcoholic of his time.

His son in his fiction is for the most part a technique bore. His nonfiction is frequently good, though.

I call you out, FNARF! A bare-knuckled Amis showdown. You bring the flabby dead one and I'll bring the flabby, snaggle-toothed live one.

Bring it where? Here? I've got about a hundred of his books down in the basement; you want me to drag them up and type some passages?

OK, I'll start. From On Drink (1972): "Any drink traditionally accompanied by a bit of fruit or vegetable is worth trying with a spot of the juice thrown in as well".

Or, later on in the same book, talking about the Metaphysical Hangover (as opposed to the Physical kind, dealt with in previous paragraphs): "When that ineffable compound of depression, sadness (these two are not the same), anxiety, self-hatred, sense of failure and fear for the future begins to steal over you, start telling yourself that what you have is a hangover. You are not sickening for anything, you have not suffered a minor brain lesion, you are not all that bad at your job, your family and friends are not leagued in a conspiracy of barely maintained silence about what a shit you are, you have not come at last to see life as it really is, and there is no use crying over spilt milk."

Your turn.

All righty then. From The Information:

"The visit to the electrician's would additionally involve him in a visit to the bathroom (to shave: he was by now far too mired internally to let the world see him with his surface unclean; he too much resembled the figure he knew he would eventually become: the terrible old man in a callbox, with a suitcase, wanting something very badly — cash, work, shelter, information, a cigarette).

And on the same page:

"These days he smoked and drank largely to solace himself for what drinking and smoking had done to him — but smoking and drinking had done a lot to him, so he drank and smoked a lot."

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