Author Topic: Disowned Books  (Read 4690 times)

Mark Steels Stockbroker

  • Lost in the former West
Re: Disowned Books
« Reply #30 on: June 24, 2018, 08:34:17 PM »
First Novel by Nicholas Royle, as well as being bloody good fun, also mentions quite a few first novels whose authors won't allow reprints. Nightspawn by John Banville is one I remember.

Mark Steels Stockbroker

  • Lost in the former West
Re: Disowned Books
« Reply #31 on: June 24, 2018, 08:37:40 PM »
I think Morrissey distanced himself from the bilge he wrote about James Dean.

But not List Of The Lost, bizarrely.

Mark Steels Stockbroker

  • Lost in the former West
Re: Disowned Books
« Reply #32 on: June 24, 2018, 08:42:24 PM »
A great lost thing is the screenplay for a film adaptation of Greybeard by Brian Aldiss that BSJ wrote around 1967, which Coe mentioned. I'd like someone to make that now, and do it as if it was made in 1968. Julian Barratt etc. but playing it straight.

Re: Disowned Books
« Reply #33 on: June 25, 2018, 12:08:22 AM »
I wonder has Bill Bryson ever disowned 'Mother Tongue', his book about the English language? I think he's probably hoping that people forget about it. In the first few pages you learn the 'well known' fact that the Eskimos have 50 words for types of snow, then a bit later you find out that 'pond' is the British word for an artificial lake and various other fascinating true facts. Like an imbecile I actually read it all the way through, then googled it to find that there are a trillion mistakes that I didn't have the knowledge to realise.

Most of the negative amazon reviews have disappeared, but there are some wonderfully condemnatory ones on goodreads:

Maurice Yeatman

  • His Reverence won't like it
Re: Disowned Books
« Reply #34 on: October 26, 2018, 11:49:04 PM »
Interview with Martin Amis published today, discussing the reissue of Invasion of the Space Invaders mentioned in the OP and other posts:

“Have you ever played Pac-Man?” Martin Amis asks.

I have, I say. Although not professionally. Not like him.

“It is quite a riveting game,” he says. “Compelling.”

You may not know this about Martin Amis, but when he was in his early thirties and just arriving at the station of literary renown he wrote a book about video games. It was called Invasion of the Space Invaders and it contained essays on the spread of arcade machines and guidance on how to play Space Invaders, Donkey Kong and Pac-Man.

“The mission of the muncher, the Lemon, is to chomp its way through all the dots on the labyrinth,” he explains in the Pac-Man chapter. There he was: the great prose-stylist, deploying that compulsive narrative voice to flashing fruit and flying saucers and the best place to loiter, with your tank, in the later stages of Space Invaders. (“In general, let the invaders move towards you,” he advises. “Don’t chase the body of aliens across the screen.”)

The book quickly fell away like a blasted space invader and in the years that followed there was a general presumption that Amis was embarrassed to speak of it. A writer for the literary website The Millions, who turned up an old copy in a university library, described it as “the madwoman in the attic of Amis’s house of nonfiction”.

Now here she is, ladies and gentlemen. Jonathan Cape is republishing Space Invaders and Amis is ready to talk. Or perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration. He’s willing to try. He tells me to come to a bar in Brooklyn, New York, and promises that it will only take an hour.

“The reason I said we will only need an hour is because I wonder if I have any thoughts at all,” he says.

It’s refreshing to interview an author who is not in the least bit interested in talking about his own book, but it has the opposite effect on me. I want to speak of nothing else. I don’t suppose he’s reread it recently? Or has it been years?


The last time I saw Amis his beautiful brownstone house in Brooklyn had been destroyed by a fire and he and his wife and their two daughters were lodging with his mother-in-law. Amis had asked the firefighters how best to avoid any further run-ins with house fires and their advice was to move somewhere more modern.

Now his family has settled in the top of a grey steel skyscraper. The bottom part is taken up by a midmarket chain hotel and its restaurant and bar in which we are sitting. For a while, Amis says, he and his wife told themselves that they were living like Jack Kerouac, although they are now reconciled to the fact that it looks rather like a Travelodge.

We’re sitting on tall, rather uncomfortable chairs, facing each other across a high, heavily lacquered table. An American football game plays on the vast television on the wall beside us, illuminating his high forehead in greens and blues. As we start to talk an airline crew passes behind me towards the reception desk, dragging their roller cases. Dance music thumps from speakers in the ceiling and here is Amis, a small, smart chap in a grey suit and pinstriped shirt, with a biography of Saul Bellow that he lays on the table. He wonders if my microphone will pick up his voice in the din.

“I’m trying to remember how I got into it,” he says. “I noticed these machines all over the place. I was living in Paris and they have a lot of them there. So I did get addicted to certain of the games and I sort of wasted months on them. My work ethic, my Protestant work ethic, was giving me no rest, saying: ‘Well, what are you going to do with it?’ So I was goaded by my work ethic into writing that little book.”

I’ve got one with me. It’s quite substantial, A4-sized, like a comic annual.

“Let’s have a look,” Amis says. “We’ve got one somewhere, but it’s in a cardboard box in storage probably.”

He looks at it rather fondly. “I still have it on my list of ‘by the same author, nonfiction’. I’m quite attached to it as a sort of fragment or relic.”

Inside there’s a photograph of Steven Spielberg, who has written the introduction. “Martin Amis,” he writes, has “a terminal case of video addiction.”

Amis tells of his first casual encounter with Space Invaders in a café near a railway station in Toulon in the south of France, “cinematic melodrama blazing on the screen, infinite firing capacity, the beautiful responsiveness of the defending turret, the sting and pow of the missiles, the background pulse of the quickening heartbeat, the inexorable descent of the bomb-dumping monsters — my awesome task, to save Earth from destruction!”

He cites Isaac Asimov, who thought that “kids like the computer because it plays back”. Playing space video games ought to be compared “to pornography and its solitary pleasures”, he writes, being “no worse than any other form of selfish and pointless gratification”. There’s also a brief consideration of possible parallels between novel writing and the plotting of video games.

I’m not entirely sure that Amis remembers any of this. “You quote EM Forster,” I shout at him over the music.

He rolls his eyes. “Well,” he says. “One point, which is of some interest, is that the novel has changed in my lifetime, my adult lifetime, in that it’s become more progress driven . . . The big, digressive novel is sort of dead.”

They are more like films?

He nods. “Sort of, forward-moving, but whoever designed the machines understood that . . . The clever thing about it is that you do progress, in that you go on to the next stage, which is incredibly habit-forming. One day in Paris I got to the end, I successfully got to the end [of Space Invaders] and it all starts again. And that’s when I thought, ‘I don’t have to do it any more.’ ” The affair had gone on “quite long enough”, he says, but then his Protestant work ethic kicked in. And “once I agreed to write the book I had to play a lot more video games”.

The guidance he offers on how to play Pac-Man or Asteroids seems quite sound. You might even call it conservative. He doesn’t want you to take risks.

“It’s methodical rather than conservative,” Amis replies.

There’s also a line about why women like Pac-Man, which I took to be a dirty joke.

Amis professes innocence. “No, I used to drag my girlfriends around with me and they did seem to like that one,” he says, and thinks for a moment. “Maybe, sort of, accumulating while tidying up?” Then he adds that this is the sort of joke one might have made in 1980, although not now. Certainly not.

“Some of the games were completely stupid,” he says. “Frogger,” he adds, his voice full of contempt, as if no further explanation were needed. But he did adore a game called Defender. “That really was terrific,” he says, his face lighting up. “I looked into the possibility of buying a Defender machine and ended up getting a pinball machine instead.”

What did your father make of this? I’d like to imagine him and Kingsley duking it out on Missile Command or Asteroids, comparing scores.

“He was barely aware of it. I mean, he didn’t read my novels.”

I tell him I used to play computer games with my father. I was always amazed at how badly he played. “This whole bloody game is rigged,” he would shout.

“Well, what goes is your reflexes,” Amis says. “That’s why I stopped playing tennis. I could bear just being slightly worse every year, but it was the sloth of reflexes, where you’d see the ball coming across the net and you’d think, ‘Mmm-hmmm’, and then, sudden panic. Because it’s not just that you’re slower. You’re slower and much more jerky and violent. I have far more spillages and f***-ups just in daily life, at home, by over-reacting. If you see something wobbling your hand shoots out and knocks over about 15 things and you get little cluster-f***s of two things at once. There’s something profoundly depressing about that.”

Has he considered golf?

“My wife keeps saying I should take up golf. I do my stretches every day, but I’m more and more averse to any kind of exertion, steady exertion. I don’t like walking.”

Every day he walks from his flat/hotel to a supermarket at the end of the block. “When I come around the corner and I look up the street I think, ‘That’s a long way.’ The distances, to the eye, look really formidable, daunting. It’s been said many times that the ageing process is felt by you as the horizons coming in. You don’t want to go beyond your familiar, circumambient world. But apart from that there’s a lot to be said for getting older. Nikolai Gogol, among others — and he starved himself to death at the age of 43 — said, ‘Old age is terrible and remorseless, but that it gives back nothing, nothing.’ Not true. I think your mood evens out.”

Amis turns 70 next year. His brother, who is a year older, has always forged on through these milestones and offered reassurance. “When we were children he goes on ahead and then says, ‘Come on, Martin!’ But he says he’s horrified about 70.”

Amis taps the book on the table. “He didn’t want any acknowledgment that it had happened.”

Your brother? Or Gogol? Or Zachary Leader, the author of the Bellow biography?

“No, Bellow. Not Zachary Leader, although he must be about 70. And Bellow lived for another 19 years, but I don’t think I’m going to do that.”

He looked a little frail when I first laid eyes on him, coming slowly into the bar, but this bar could make anyone feel ancient.

“I said to my brother, ‘When we were 18 and 19 we’d have laughed out loud if you’d said we were going to be 70 and still alive. When we were 18 we wanted to die at 20, and 29 was the absolute limit. So uncool being any older than that. Now you’re pathetically grateful that you’re not going to die very young.”

The last time I interviewed Amis he suggested that he might like to die in England. We talked about other reasons to go home. My wife had a shortlist of three. Amis guessed two of them. “And you said, ‘No, the third is women,’ ” he recalls. As in, the treatment of women in America. This was a year ago, just before the Harvey Weinstein scandal.

“I asked my wife,” Amis says. “And she said, ‘Yeah, it’s worse here than in England.’ It’s very much a subterranean conversation that you don’t hear much about, but Americans are realising that they are less evolved than other countries when it comes to this area.”

Amis’s wife [the novelist Isabel Fonseca] said something else “that made me see the Weinstein thing for what it is”, he says. “Isabel said, ‘He’s hideous as any man you’ve ever seen, but he’s going to get a girl. It’s not desperation on that front.’ She said, ‘What it is, is that there are some men who are excited by women in, you know, female distress.’ In a bathrobe, you know, ‘Give me a massage.’ Making them uncomfortable. Trump is like that. He likes to make a woman jittery.”

It’s a power thing?

“Exactly,” he says. “I was teased by a writer friend, a poet, ‘When is Me Too going to turn on the novelist?’ I don’t think I know of any who are of that type.”

After some thought we come up with a couple of suspects.

“I am sure there are quite a few women ‘hitters’,” Amis says. “Because they’re often going to be very insecure and jumpy and touchy. But the thing is, you’re never in a position to say, ‘If you come to bed with me I’ll get your novel published.’ ”

Or: “I’ll put you in my novel.”

“No. And they’d say, ‘No. Don’t do that.’ ” He chuckles. “They might get you a job working for their publisher at a very low level, but nothing more than that. They can’t make or break you. ‘Do you want to answer my letters?’ That’s not going to get you anywhere.”

Our hour is running out. We make one last effort to talk about his Space Invaders book. It predicted the coming power of Silicon Valley. However, Amis also stoutly dismissed prophesies of video games in which the player is given dominion over a nation, to manage the land and the populace. Games will “always be faddist in tendency”, he wrote. Well, he got that wrong.

“Most of my predictions are wrong, instantly dismayed by events,” he replies cheerfully. “It’s not something that literature should do. It’s slightly bunk-y, carny, predicting the future. Some writers are better than others . . . Don DeLillo is the best. He wrote in the late Eighties that there was something illusory about the World Trade Center, as if it was just made of light. And for a while the World Trade Center was just a light show, after it had been destroyed, which is very striking. He describes it as if it’s just a shoot of light.”

But take JG Ballard, who prided himself on astute observations about the future. “In his last three novels the main prediction is that the next revolution is going to be about parking spaces . . . And then came the crash of 2008. Suddenly, you’re not going to have a revolution about parking. If there’s a revolution, it will be about inequality.”

Some studies suggest that video games are now staving off revolution by keeping a generation of under-employed young men happy.

Playing Space Invaders and writing a book about it “was, I suppose, a slightly useful experience”, Amis says. “It gave me a foretaste of what’s clearly been happening to the western world in the internet age, in that you feel your mind rotting as you are doing it. If anything has emerged in the past two years, since 2016, Brexit and then Trump, it’s that: they ask how democracies die. One way they die is that the populace gets so stupid that it can’t recognise its own interests and will vote against its own interests.”

He has to go. He has somewhere to be. He’s going to Germany in a day or two. “I guess it will be all right,” he says. “They weren’t pleased with my last book.”

The Zone of Interest, his 2014 novel, was set in Auschwitz and contained satire. “They make an absolute division between what is serious and what is comic and no interpenetration between the two,” he says. “Very primitive in lit-crit terms and it abolishes practically the whole novel everywhere except Germany.”

He’s going for the publication of a book of essays. “They do like essays,” he says. Still, it’s a trek and even the supermarket is a long way these days. “Zurich, and then I will go to Berlin, and then France,” he says wearily. “I’m too old for that shit.”

Invasion of the Space Invaders by Martin Amis is republished by Jonathan Cape on November 8

Re: Disowned Books
« Reply #35 on: October 27, 2018, 08:06:24 PM »
Thanks for that.

Re: Disowned Books
« Reply #36 on: October 27, 2018, 08:15:42 PM »
Burgess and A Clockwork Orange.

Did he disown it? I thought he just hated the movie.