“WTF??? Dude, I have literally nooooooooo idea what you're talking about. Like, what do half those words even mean??.”
Martin Quatorze Bonobo Amis (born 25 August 1949) is an award-winning British author. In 1999 he was voted third most difficult English language writer of the millennium. To date he has penned nine impenetrable novels. In 1990 his best known work, Alabaster Quiddity, was made into a film staring several willowy French actresses.
Early Life and Family
Amis was born in a fountain in the front quad of All Souls College, Oxford. He is the youngest son of irascible* novelist Kingsley Amis. He has an older brother, Quince, and a younger sister, Yosemite. The Amis siblings were famously estranged after Martin published a collection of short stories in 1981 entitled "Well, it looks like I inherited the brains, n'est-ce-pas?"
Amis's formidable intellect displayed itself in infancy. According to his parents, he could communicate fluently at the age of seventy weeks, and his Father reported that the boy "demonstrated a remarkable grasp of Greek before he was off the tit".
Despite Kingsley's admiration for his youngest son's mental acuity, the two enjoyed a rather frosty relationship. Amis senior looked upon fatherhood as an imposition, and was not best pleased by the expense it occasioned him. When, from the age of four, Martin's school caps had to be hand made to accommodate his already adult sized cranium, Kingsley remarked acidly in his diaries that "The lad looks like a fucking Mekon in a blazer."
Although a capable pupil, Amis struggled with rigid structures and discipline of school life. As is common with English boys of his class, he was sent to a boarding school at the age of two. He commented later that he considered the other boys to be his intellectual, spiritual and physical inferior, and would berate them for these perceived shortcomings. An early house master Dr Charles Relic confirmed this in an interview some years later:
"He was a troublesome influence from the outset. He apparently had so little regard for the opinion of his peers that he would bite them with vicious abandon. He was also given to defecating prodigiously in public in order to draw attention to himself. I had to bitch-slap him unconscious myself on several occasions to restore order."
Despite this, Amis's academic star shone brightly. He sailed through his public examinations, and prepared for Oxford entrance at the tender age of fourteen. He initially applied to study at Christ Church College, but a routine blood test showed him to be insufficiently posh to matriculate. He applied instead to read English at Exeter College (motto: Plurrimi Mediocris), and was successful.
Amis's time at Oxford was characterised by his prodigious industry and ambition. He worked assiduously from the moment he arrived, often missing important lectures and tutorials due to his inability to stop revising.
He also applied himself diligently to student politics, becoming president of the Oxford Union in his first term. He controversially invited Cambodian dictator Pol Pot to speak on the debate "This house believes that Roman-style decimation is a legitimate policy for population control in largely agrarian societies". The debate ended in uproar, however, when fellow speaker Henry Kissinger performed a satirical mime during Pot's rebuttal. The two men were never reconciled despite co-owning a flat in London at the time.
He graduated in the summer of 1969 with a formal first in Media Studies & Land Management.
Upon graduating Amis secured a job delivering milk on a round in north London. The early morning finishes left him plenty of spare time in the afternoons, and he used this free time to write fiction.
His first full novel, "The Piebald Grandiloquence of Fêted Youth", was rejected by thirty publishing houses, primarily on grounds of length, the first draft being more than two-hundred and ninety thousand words long. Amis refused to edit the work, and it was never published.
Amis's father suggested that he might consider putting some jokes in his next work "as people like a laugh". He set about the task with his usual prodigious energy. The result was the seven-hundred page "Humour", the story of a Jewish Polish emigré, Victor, who flees his homeland in 1940 to escape the Nazis. He arrives in wartime England, and becomes a clown in a travelling circus. Victor is riven with guilt at having left his family to face interment and certain death in Auchwitz, however, and assuages his feelings of self-loathing by mutilating donkeys at the weekend.
Again the work was rejected by every major publishing house. Amis despaired. It was during this time that he suffered an injury at work, slipping on a pot of yoghurt and breaking his leg. During his long convalescence, he took to drinking in the pubs around his Notting Hill home. He was fascinated by the working-class characters he saw there. He decided he would write about this milieu, and set about making a comprehensive study of these people.
The London Trilogy
Amis spent eight months studying the pub regulars. The result was his first published novel, "Oi, Oi, Saveloy", the story of unemployed Notting Hill chimney sweep Johnny Gritt. The book was an instant and enormous success, winning the TV Quick award for book of the year (fiction).
He quickly followed this up with "The Whelk Pier" (1980) and "Bruv" (1981). Both these books also garnered huge critical acclaim and sales.
By the mid-nineteen eighties, Amis was the highest paid author in the English speaking world. He supplemented his frankly staggering royalties and advances by appearing in a long-running advertising campaign for Toilet Duck©. In 1991, he used the advance for his new novel, "The Mengele Biscuit Barrel", to have his front upper incisor teeth replaced with sharpened emeralds.
His later work differs markedly in tone and style from the earlier London based works. The books following "Bruv" are of punishing length and complexity. Amis admitted in an interview in the Times Literary Supplement that the plot of "The Chilterns" was based on his son's favourite quadratic equation.
- Oi Oi Saveloy (1979)
- The Whelk Pier (1980)
- Bruv (1981)
- Alabaster Quiddity (1984) (filmed 1990)
- Cocking (1986)
- The Mengele Biscuit Barrel (1991)
- Pidgin Pigeon (2002)
- The Chilterns (2004)
- Lazlo's Tombola (2006)
- Chocolate Jockey Memoirs (1993)
- Sisyphus Jambalaya (biography of Les Dawson) (1995)