British novelist Martin Amis, who brought rock 'n' roll sensibility to his work, has died at 73

His death, from cancer of the esophagus, was confirmed by his agent, Andrew Wylie.

His death, from cancer of the esophagus, was confirmed by his agent, Andrew Wylie

A man sitting on a red velvet chair looking out a large portrait window.
British novelist Martin Amis poses in the living room of his new home in the Brooklyn borough of New York on Aug. 17, 2012. (Associated Press)

British novelist Martin Amis, who brought a rock 'n' roll sensibility to his stories and lifestyle, has died. He was 73.

Amis was one of England's most provocative writers with an unmistakable voice. 

His death, from cancer of the esophagus, was confirmed by his agent, Andrew Wylie, on Saturday. Amis died Friday, May 19, at his home in Florida, Wylie said.

Amis was the son of another British writer, Kingsley Amis. Martin Amis was a leading voice among a generation of writers that included his good friend, the late Christopher Hitchens, Ian McEwan and Salman Rushdie.

He had more than a dozen novels and three collections of literary criticism, including The Rub of Time: Bellow, Nabokov, Hitchens, Travolta, Trump

The Rub of Time, which was published in 2018, explored everything from sports to politics to entertainment. He also shared personal essays about the people who influenced his life in the book.

In 2020, he spoke with Eleanor Wachtel on Writers & Company about his novel Inside Story.

Inside Story drew on people and events from his own life, including the death of his closest friend, the writer and critic Christopher Hitchens. It combined autobiographical reflections with sheer imagination and explored relationships with other significant men in his life: his father, the novelist and poet Kingsley Amis; and his mentor and friend, Nobel laureate Saul Bellow. 

A black and white photo of two men in conversation, one of the men is holding a baby.
Saul Bellow, left, holds a child while Martin Amis looks on. (Submitted by Isabel Fonseca)

While the book very much drew on Amis's life, he felt that fiction was a richer format for his work.

"When you're writing about real people, there's nothing for the subconscious to do. There's not that much for the imagination to do either," he told Wachtel.

"The subconscious, which you slowly learn after a lifetime of writing, is a sort of a magical superpower that writers have. It's hard to control, but you do get on good terms with your subconscious over the decades." 

Among his best-known works were Money, a satire about consumerism in London, The Information and London Fields, along with his 2000 memoir, Experience.

LISTEN | Martin Amis reflects on his literary influences:
The provocative British writer talks to Eleanor Wachtel about his new book, Inside Story, which reflects on the significant men in his life, including his father Kingsley, his mentor Saul Bellow, and his closest friend, writer and critic Christopher Hitchens.
A blue and yellow book cover with artful barbed wired running across it. The Zone of Interest is in white text and Martin Amis is in red text.

Jonathan Glazer's adaptation of Amis' 2014 novel The Zone of Interest premiered Saturday, May 20, at the Cannes Film Festival. The film, about a Nazi commandant who lives next to Auschwitz with his family, drew some of the best reviews of the festival.

The Holocaust was the topic of Amis' novel Time's Arrow and Josef Stalin's reign in Russia in House of Meetings, examples of how his writing explored the dark soul.

"Violence is what I hate most, is what baffles me and disgusts me most," Amis told The Associated Press in 2012. "Writing comes from silent anxiety, the stuff you don't know you're really brooding about and when you start to write you realize you have been brooding about it, but not consciously. It's terribly mysterious."

LISTEN | Martin Amis discusses The Zone of Interest:
British novelist Martin Amis has been extremely controversial in his lifetime, and has been described as a master of "the new unpleasantness." His most recent novel is called "The Zone of Interest."

Amis was a celebrity in his own right, his life often chronicled by London tabloids since his 1973 debut, The Rachel Papers.

"He was the king — a stylist extraordinaire, super cool, a brilliantly witty, erudite and fearless writer and a truly wonderful man," said Michal Shavit, his editor in England. "He has been so important and formative for so many readers and writers over the last half century. Every time he published a new book it was an event."

Critic Michiko Kakutani wrote of Amis in the New York Times in 2000 that "he is a writer equipped with a daunting arsenal of literary gifts: a dazzling, chameleonesque command of language, a willingness to tackle large issues and larger social canvases and an unforgiving, heat-seeking eye for the unwholesome ferment of contemporary life."

— With files from CBC Books

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