Amis and Son
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the guardian Fri 24 April 2009
Neil Powell expresses a certain wariness of labels such as "literary biography", which should prepare the reader for the idiosyncrasies of his approach. Kingsley emerges as brilliant but troubled, Martin as brilliant but annoying, but it's hard to tell how fair this is, especially since the son receives so much less attention than the father. Powell acknowledges that writing about an author whose life and oeuvre are complete is radically different from writing about one who is still active, experimental and unpredictable. His closing chapter discusses his relationship with his own father alongside that of his protagonists, and questions "Martin's assumption that being a writer is the centrally defining factor about Kingsley-as-father". But it is as writers that we are interested in these men, and Powell offers detailed and insightful analyses of their books in the context of their lives, asking how "two novelists of adjacent generations who set out with apparently similar intentions ... end up with such disparate results".
the observer Sat 04 April 2009
It would be hard to find two richer subjects for a literary biography than Kingsley and Martin Amis. Drawing on the work of both, Powell takes us through Kingsley's "fiercely non-crazy" upbringing in Norwood and Martin's more chaotic one, via Kingsley's turbulent marriages and affairs, lifelong "love, unquestionably love" for Philip Larkin and all that was happening around him. Yet, as Powell acknowledges, it's an incomplete project: while Kingsley's life is over, and we have an extensive record of it through his letters, Martin's is unfinished. Martin remains an enigma, appearing in parenthesis for most of the book. As a biography of Amis elder, it's a triumph. But perhaps "Son" should have been saved for a later volume.