Visiting Mrs. Nabokov by Martin Amis

Visiting Mrs. Nabokov by Martin Amis

Author:Martin Amis [Amis, Martin]
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 978-0-307-77779-9
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Published: 2011-01-26T00:00:00+00:00

I am delighted to be here, for all sorts of reasons: the sun, the sea breezes, this new wallet, the convulsive coughing fits that will punctuate my discourse. And I have further grounds for self-satisfaction. We are all familiar with our Herzogs and Humboldts and Hendersons, we all know our Augies and our Arturs; but nobody here has read the new one. Perhaps you have heard tell of it, you are acquainted with its lovely title: More Die of Heartbreak. But only I have read it. That is to say I have reread it; and I become more and more convinced that you cannot read writers like Saul Bellow; you can only reread them. I have read the new one – and you haven’t. Not even Saul Bellow has read it. Oh, he has peered at the typescript, he has agonised over the proofs. He has written it. But he has not read it, as I have.

Once the first days of creation are over (once life has been assigned to various hunches and inklings), writing is decision-making. After the big decisions, the medium-sized decisions; then the little decisions, lots of little decisions, two or three hundred a page. When Bellow reads More Die of Heartbreak he isn’t reading; he is squirming and smarting, feeling the pulls and shoves and aftershocks of a million decisions. For him the book is a million clues to a million skirmishes – scars, craters, bullet-holes. For me, it is a seamless fait accompli. And I am here to tell you – I am literally here to tell you – that it is as dense, as funny, as thought-crammed, as richly associational and as cruelly contemporary as anything he has written. He’s over seventy. What’s the matter with him?

Here are further grounds for extreme complacence on my part: Bellow has been reading Philip Larkin. Now the narrator of More Die of Heartbreak grew up in Paris at the feet of heavy thinkers like Boris Souvarine and Alexandre Kojève who talked about geopolitics and Hegel and Man at the End of History and wrote books called things like Existenz (note the powerful z on the end, rather than the more modest ce). I grew up in Swansea, Wales, and Philip Larkin was a good deal around. He didn’t talk about posthistorical man. He talked about the psychodrama of early baldness. Bellow quotes Larkin as follows: ‘In everyone there sleeps a sense of life according to love.’ ‘He also says that people dream “of all they might have done had they been loved. Nothing cures that”.’ And nothing – i.e. death – did cure that. Love was not a possibility for Larkin. Because to him death overarched love and rendered it derisory. He died in 1985; by Bellow’s age, incidentally, he had been dead for years. For him, death crowded love out. With Bellow, it seems to be the other way around. More die of heartbreak, says the title. Well, Larkin never had any heartbreak, not in that sense.


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