The Pequod Review:
Martin Amis's 2020 book Inside Story is closer to a memoir than a novel, as its narrator describes his personal encounters with Christopher Hitchens, Saul Bellow, Philip Larkin, and others. The book has a freewheeling energy — its tangents cover everything from politics and literature to romance and grief, and often in highly substantive ways— and Amis comes up with a lot of great observations:
"Tell a dream, lose a reader" is a dictum usually attributed to Henry James (though I and others have failed to track it down). Dreams are all right as long as they exhaust themselves in about half a sentence; once they’re allowed to get going, and once the details start piling up, then dreams become recipes either for stodge or for very thin gruel. Why is this? Any dream that lasts a paragraph, let alone a page, is already closing in on another very solid proscription, Nothing odd will do long (Samuel Johnson). But it’s even more basic than that. Dreams are too individualised. We all dream, but dreams are not part of our shared experience...
Early advice, or early commandments, can be pernicious. I love the short stories of Alice Munro; but someone must have told her, when she was little, to shun everyday contractions like "couldn’t" and "wouldn’t" and "hadn’t" (for example, "[Enid had to tell Rupert] that she could not swim. And that would not be a lie…she had not learned to swim"). It makes for a choppy, counter-conversational forward flow. But in the end all those nots only amount to a flesh wound: bits of buckshot on the body of Munro’s prose…Whoever introduced Henry James to the joys of EV (see below) has systemic ills to answer for — among them gentility and evasiveness.
Literature...is curiously incapable of helping you through the critical events of an average span (for example, the deaths of parents). I suppose the lesson is that you have to enter into it and see for yourself. At Larkin's funeral my father talked of "the terrible effects of time on everything we have and are." So I'm expecting some of that, vivified and enriched by the fact that [Phoebe] and I were lovers for five years, in our prime and in our pomp. Our meeting impends before me like the worst of medical examination. Which it is, in a sort of sense. An hour with Doctor Time.
The audience today for a book like this is probably small — it would have been much bigger in the 1970s or 1980s when authors and poets were more culturally prominent — but it's another solid work from a great writer.