Books Beneath the Bridge: Martin Amis

1. According to Amis: when asked in 1969 about her thoughts on the moon landing, a little old lady from Long Island said it was interesting, but nothing compared to the day they opened the Bridge. 2. Parked for good, it seems.

No matter what you may have heard to the contrary, plotting pays off. So does keeping up, near-compulsively, with one’s email. Half-running in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge this Monday night, on my way to hear the recently imported Martin Amis read from his latest novel, Lionel Asbo: State of England, I hoped that the benefits of arriving early were the single aphorism I could rely on.

1. Christien Shangraw, preparing the crowd.

In fact, wise folks from the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy and BookCourt, who had jointly organized this final night of the Books Beneath the Bridge series, had set up extra seating around the stone steps on Pier 1 for the late-comers. Chairs, steps and sidewalk disappeared beneath several generations of Amis aficionados, behatted and bareheaded; from possible Kingsley contemporaries to those closer in age to Lionel Asbo himself–a twenty-one-year-old violent criminal “always one size bigger than expected,” “in certain lights… resembling Wayne Rooney,” who feeds his psychopathic pitbulls Joe and Jeff on “Tabasco and mutton vindaloo.”

Introduced by BookCourt’s Christien Shangrow, who was introduced by the Conservancy’s executive director Nancy Webster, Martin Amis in turn introduced us to his Lionel, but not before a brief audience with the topic that’s been haunting Mr. Amis a while: death. Paraphrasing his father–“posterity is no good to me… because I’ll be dead”–he referred to the doctors who buried their research on hunger inside the Warsaw Ghetto just before being deported to Treblinka, concluding their work with a line from Horace — non omnis moriar — “not all of me will die.” Then he read.

1. Amis on self: “My wife accuses me of being a Paul wanting to be a John… but I’m secretly a George.” No one cops to being Ringo. 2. I’m seeing a pattern: Amy Lee, brand consultant, and Jonathan Lee, novelist, recently arrived from the UK.

Fearing death at Lionel’s hands, 15-year-old Desmond Pepperdine opens the novel with a letter to the punning agony aunt of The Morning Lark, perhaps hoping also to be preserved in print if the worst happens. His uncle Lionel finds out Des is sleeping with Lionel’s mum, his grandmother Grace; it’s not such a big deal, Des argues. In the desolation of the London borough of Diston Town, “nothing and no one [is] over sixty,” and Grace is only forty-something — and the sex is great. But Des doubts that Lionel, “like a father to me when he’s not in prison,” will be so casual about it. Amis skipped ahead, and an imprisoned Lionel won the lottery. As he read, the sun slunk behind 55 Water Street.

Beginning the Q&A, Amis praised his new, quiet Brooklyn home–“I’m too old for Manhattan,” he said, “where I don’t sleep because of self-righteous municipal improvement at 4AM every night.” (Perhaps he had in mind my alma mater.) The American edition of the novel was for sale in the nearby tent–several days before release!–and, asked about the difference between the UK and US covers, Amis revealed that until now he’d always tried to stay away from character-name novels like Saul Bellow’s, but then came Lionel, and eventually the British cover with its “horrific-looking guy” with “penny-farthing eyes.” (The American cover plays it safer.) Amis finished writing the novel in the apartment of his friend Cristopher Hitchens, whose love of life he feels he has inherited. “Writing is celebratory,” he concluded. His audience celebrated by lining up for autographs, and I by walking down Flatbush in twilight, resolving to read London Fields, convinced in a purely animal pocket of my brain of a kind of twenty-three-year-old immortality.

***

— Elina Mishuris is in a perpetual state of cat-sitting.

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