All the best heroes are villains anyway

10 January 2008

Ask anyone to name a hero or villain and the resultant litany of names will undoubtedly conjure up images of spandex-clad comic book characters with animalistic abilities. At our recent office party,  staff danced the night away in silly superhero costumes (crrrrrrazy, wacky publishing folk that we are). But no-one came as a literary hero or villain, which surprised me in an office full of supposed bibliophiles.

So, I thought I'd blog about literary heroes and villains instead.

My literary hero is someone who for many, I suspect, is a villain. In fact he's someone reviewers these days absolutely love to hate. He's written lots of brilliant books that saw him lavished with praise early on in his career. However - if you believe the reviewers at least - he is now barely capable of writing a decent sentence, let alone constructing a credible plot, or making meaningful judgements about the world we live in today that amount to anything more than an exercise in self-aggrandisement. To add to that, he's been branded a bigot and a racist for having the temerity to air in public his (admittedly sometimes extremely provocative) opinion on religion and more specifically Islamic fundamentalism.

You may have guessed by now that I'm talking about Martin Amis.

I don't think the Picador blog is the place for me to discuss Amis's political, religious and moral views (although you are welcome reply to this post to that effect). Even so, I will stick my head above the parapet and admit that I admire Amis for his brazen refusal to adhere to any notion of political correctness by stating his views so publicly. I also think he's clever, if not brave, for having done so, precisely because he knows it will make headlines. He also knows he will be lambasted for doing so. But he doesn't care. Because he's got two books out this year, and all publicity is good publicity.

Ultimately I love Amis not because of his views or how he expresses them, but because he's a bloody fine novelist who has written some of the best British fiction of the twentieth century. Fiction which always engages, fiction of gymnastic prose which always pushes the boundaries of language and how it is used, fiction which never conforms to any genre stereotype (apart from perhaps the one reviewers have created for him), fiction which always, always entertains. While we're talking heroes and villains, he's also created some of the most memorable - from the utterly reprehensible, manically funny (anti)hero of Money, John Self, to the cheeky-chappy Cockney caricature Keith Talent in London Fields, to the raging, brain-damaged Xan Meo in Yellow Dog.

Ah yes, Yellow Dog - the book which suffered the worst reviews of any book ever written (apart from maybe Ashley Cole's My Defence, but I'll save that for another blog post). Yellow Dog - the book which was reviewed so famously (badly) in one of the broadsheets by Tibor Fischer, who said something along the lines of 'this book is not just bad… it's not really, really bad… it's so-bad-you-don't-know-where-to-look-bad'. Come on Tibor, it wasn't that bad. In fact I rather liked it.

My point is this: in our country, the media has a depressing tendency to praise talented people, put them on a pedestal, and then knock them down again gleefully. This is true across nearly all areas of public life, but our authors have largely been spared. Amis, however, has not. He's got a new novel out later this year, and I bet the reviewers are sharpening their nibs already.

Anyway, I'll shut up now, or risk being accused of liking the sound of my own voice (a bit like you-know-who). Pantomime villain to the literary press, Martin Amis is my hero.

Literary heroes and villains (authors or characters) - who are yours?