FICTION

Inside Story

Knopf. Oct. 2020. 560p. ISBN 9780593318294. $28.95. F
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Across 26 books, including 17 works of fiction, Amis has blazed a trail of unremitting brilliance. But for all the virtues of his writing—wit and irony foremost among them—heart has not been one of his singular virtues. Until this book, billed as a novel but really autobiography, with Amis looking back at his life from age 71. The author here covers a lot of topics, including what it is to write fiction and what is good writing and what is not. The heart of the novel, though, is Amis’s sorting out of his relations with the four men who shaped his life and whose deaths he mourns and commemorates in moving detail: his father, Kingsley, a great comic novelist but highly problematic human being (i.e., he was a drunk, anti-Semite, and womanizer); Kingsley’s longtime friend, poet Philip Larkin (equally problematic); Saul Bellow, Martin’s model as a writer and surrogate father; and Martin’s same-age close friend, contrarian Christopher Hitchens. This book is finally about growing older, but from the evidence of it, Amis has in the process also grown more human. He’s still witty, but there’s substance to him.
VERDICT Amis is a proven winner in the literary circle, and this may be his best work to date.

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