Martin Amis really does live in Brooklyn
Eagle interview with the author of ‘The Rub of Time: Bellows, Nabokov, Hitchens, Travolta, Trump: Essays and Reportage, 1994-2017’
Martin Amis has written 16 novels and, with the recent publication of his essay collection “The Rub of Time,” eight works of nonfiction. To say his output is prodigious is an understatement. The photograph on the cover of “The Rub of Time” depicts a scowling, narrow-eyed young man. That fact, plus his evident erudition and his preeminent reputation, had me a bit intimidated.
But the Amis (who arrives for our interview with a satchel overflowing with books, magazines and newspapers) is low key, charming and fully accessible. He has the air of an English don, who’s somehow wandered absent-mindedly into this noisy, popular Italian restaurant on Atlantic Avenue. But it turns out that this restaurant is his “local” and he’s far from absent about any of the myriad of topics we cover.
I begin by asking what prompted his move from Manhattan to Brooklyn
Martin Amis: Basically just to get a bigger place for less money. It was my wife’s idea.
Brooklyn Eagle: In which neighborhood in Brooklyn do you live?
MA: Originally we were living in a brownstone in Cobble Hill, but that house burnt down.
Eagle: It burnt down?! What happened?
MA: It was a good date: Dec. 31, 2016 … (laughing) So everything shitty happened in 2016. The fire started at midday and between the fire itself and the NYFD there was little left by the time the fire was put out. It was a chimney fire, so it burnt off the roof and the floor of my daughters’ room. (Amis has two daughters, Clio and Fernanda, with his second wife, the American writer Isabel Fonseca. He also has two sons, Jacob and Louis, from his first marriage to Antonia Phillips.)
Eagle: Did you lose any irreplaceables?
MA: Very little, fortunately. The poetry shelves took a hit, but no paintings or heirlooms. It was a chimney fire, high up, so it burned off the roof.
Eagle: Where was this brownstone?
MA: On Strong Place, in Cobble Hill. We refurbished it and then sold it to James Bond.
Eagle: You mean Daniel Craig?
MA: Yes, Daniel and his wife Rachel Weisz. Their daughter is going to Saint Ann’s.
Eagle: Did your daughters grow up in New York?
MA: Yes, they both did and they also went to Saint Ann’s in Brooklyn Heights, which is where their mother went. It’s a liberated school but without being ridiculously progressive in a frightening ideological way. Saint Ann’s doesn’t give grades — instead the parents receive these very well-written reports, which take about two hours to read. They should come with tables of contents. (Laughing.) I just want to see “A+.”
Eagle: Were you happy with the outcome for your children at Saint Ann’s?
MA: Yes, very. Both of my daughters both went on to NYU. They’re wonderful girls; they’re bright and clever and excellent students. My first wife is also American, so my sons are American as well.
Eagle: Since there is a piece in your collection about Trump, allow me to ask a no-holds-barred question: If you could do anything to punish him, what would it be?
MA: If I had my druthers I would enslave him. You know it’s only just hit me in the last few weeks the depth, the abyss of cynicism inherent in this presidency. He is an unapologetic white supremacist. He uses his tweets to disseminate hate and division. We have a small house in Florida, very near Mar-a-Lago and we’ve dealt with tradesmen who also worked for Trump and they tell us that [Trump] always says when they’ve completed their work (and here Amis does a credible impression of Trump), “I’m not going to pay you because the publicity you’re going to get from working for me far outweighs your fee.” Imagine the hubris. To say that to a group of working men…
Eagle: Do you feel that Trump is so surreal, so outre that he renders any attempt at satire dead-on-arrival?
MA: Well, it’s still premature. You can’t write satire until the thing is over. Norman Mailer always said it takes four or five years just to digest everything. Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” was written in 1729, centuries after the Great Famine. Satire needs time, needs seasoning. You can’t do it while it’s still going on. Dickens satirizing debtor’s prison was 20 years after the fact. Otherwise you’re a hostage of the future. What if you write a satire of Trump and three days later he’s provoked North Korea into bombing Los Angeles? I don’t want to laugh at Trump if he can still cost us an American city. You have to wait until things settle down.
Eagle: When you’re working on a book, when do you write and for how long a stretch?
MA: Usually I go to my desk directly after breakfast and work through the morning. I go as long as I can. It used to be I’d work straight without interruption three or four hours, but now that I’ve gotten older it’s usually two to three hours straight.
Eagle: Did you know before assembling the essays and reportage for “The Rub of Time” that you would also include amendments and updates?
MA: Yes I did. It was always my intention to, not so much revise, as comment upon where things stood now as opposed to where they were when I wrote the pieces. As I mentioned earlier, particularly when writing about politics, one can become a hostage of the present.
Eagle: You’re a great proselytizer for Nabokov and Bellow. In fact you refer to them as your “twin peaks.” At first glance they seem like strange bedfellows…
MA: Well, Bellow was an immigrant and Nabokov was an emigre and they both have a purity and amplitude that is stunning and timeless. And they both were fascinated by, and madly in love with, America.
Eagle: Now that you, also, are an emigre, do you miss England?
MA: No, as I write in the very first essay in the collection (“He’s Leaving Home”), when we moved from Camden Town to Cobble Hill, the reasons were personal and familial. I admire the English for their tolerance, generosity and wit. But, do I miss England? No, not really. As the 2016 byline to that first essay indicates, my home, my happy home, is now Brooklyn.
“The Rub of Time: Bellow, Nabokov, Hitchens, Travolta, Trump: Essays and Reportage, 1994-2017” is published by Alfred A. Knopf. For more information, visit www.aaknopf.com.
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