Indian writers added diversity to English literature: British novelist

By Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS
Wednesday, January 26, 2011

JAIPUR - Colonial writing has added colour and diversity to contemporary English literature, says British novelist Martin Loius Amis, the author of contemporary British literary classics like “Money” and “London Fields”.

“The major change that contemporary English literature has seen in the last three decades is the arrival of colonial writers - (I apologise if it sounds insulting) - headed by Salman Rushdie,” Amis told IANS.

“The English novel was parochial in the 80s. Indian writers have given us the colour. We badly needed it. They gave us a huge amount of diversity and styles, making novel writing a much more public occupation,” said the 61-year-old novelist who was in India for the Jaipur lit fest.

The writer who teaches creative writing at Manchester University was named by Time magazine in 2008 as one of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945. Inspired by the likes of Saul Bellow, James Joyce and Vladimir Nabokov, he has been hailed as the “undisputed master of the new unpleasantness” by the New York Times.

He has authored nearly a dozen novels like “The Rachel Papers”, “Dead Babies”, “Night Train”, “Yellow Dog” and “The Pregnant Widow” as well as an equal number of non-fiction works and anthologies of essays, opinions and stories.

Amis said colonial writing was “marked by a new energy”. “I read my friend Salman Rushdie, who marks a watershed in Indian writing exemplifying the evolution in literature,” the British litterateur said, when queried about his “favourite colonial writer”.

Amis has just finished a new book which he expects to get in print later this year. “The book is set in England and features some weird people in contemporary society. It is about vulgarity and decline - and the value of tolerance,” Amis said, refusing to divulge more about his forthcoming book.

The writer, a staunch votary of the novel as a literary genre, admitted to diminishing attention spans. “Readers have shorter attention spans and they need narrative - the non-static novel. But I personally want to write a long great static novel. We novelists are modern people too - and are subject to the same attention spaces and gaps. A novel takes much longer to write,” Amis said.

The writer said he “went back to a time when literary fiction was a minority activity”.

“There were no parties for novelists and no profiles for reporters. Novel writing was a quiet activity,” he said.

But then “there was the great fattening up of the media, and the volume of magazine and television began to expand”. “Suddenly, there was all this extra activity,” he said.

Outlining the chronology of his literary initiatives, he said his first novel in 1973, (’The Rachel Papers’) was “about the things that went inside the head of a 23-year-old.”

“In 1975, I wrote a novel about a peer group in London. ‘Money’ was a jetlag novel between London and New York,” Amis said.

His first book, “The Rachel Papers”, which won the Somerset Maugham Prize and was made into a movie, was an autobiographical tale about a bright egotistical teenager and his complex relationship with his girlfriend Rachel a year before he went to the university.

“In the 1980s, you never went out to write a novel about the decade. Novels as Vadimir Nabokov said came to writers with a throb. I was inspired by the royal wedding of Prince Charles and Diana and the riot against the poll tax that rocked England. The contrasts between a royal wedding and riots and the immensity of New York provided me with a glimmer and I decided to follow it,” Amis said, recalling the making of “Money”.

For Amis, writing is a “lifelong vocation” which goads him to refill his pen to document the environs in which he lives.

“Write about what you know. Defame your brothers, write about your grandmothers and relatives,” he advised Gen Next writers, urging them to be rooted in the present rather than writing about the past.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at [email protected])

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