As of late, Amis, the author of eight previous novels and three collections of journalism and criticism, has ascended into the major leagues with a very big book: a literary Bonfire of the Vanities crossed with a vivisection of the Hampstead intelligentsia, ratland America, and the violent decay of modern-day London. In a neat instance of life imitating art, his tale of literary envy, malice, greed, ambition, infidelity, and the betrayals of friendship has created a barrage of controversy, with Amis being accused of various deadly sins by the politburo of English literature. Mired in a classic midlife crisis, Amis decided to establish his worth as a writer, insisting on an $800,000 advance, chump change in the new era of publishing. His agent at the time, Pat Kavanagh, also happened to be the wife of Amis's former close friend, Julian Barnes, of Flaubert's Parrot fame. Although Kavanagh got him close to the money he wanted, Amis dumped her and called in the unseemly upstart Andrew Wylie, the agent of Salman Rushdie, Germaine Greer, and Amis's American girlfriend, Isabel Fonseca.
The furor over the advance was compounded by the breakup of his marriage to Antonia Phillips, an American who bore him two sons over the course of a twelve-year relationship. To fuel the flames, Amis went out and spent 25 grand on an American dentist, attention to mere molars, even necessary dental surgery, being considered thoroughly pretentious in the land of bad teeth. Since then the writer A.S. Byatt has denounced this extravagance and the money given to a literary novel that may not earn out its advance, as Amis's novelist friends -- Rushdie, Ian McEwan, Will Self, Kazuo Ishiguro -- have rallied around him. An ugly only-in-England episode, but an enviable publicity opportunity, Amis's name being profitably bandied about in every strain of the press, from The New Yorker to Glamour and various gossip columns: "For a while, even the more bourgeois tabloids, like the Daily Mail, staked out my wife's house, along with Isabel and myself -- unfortunately, we never made The Sun."
At the moment, England is far away, and Amis, nursing a couple of beers at the poolside lounge, is taking the long view, sharp, friendly, and expansive in the American style: "I started very young, with The Rachel Papers at 23, which is good -- the young know no fear. Many times my father hasn't spared me in the press, but a lot of that, throwing my books across the room and such, was just to scandalize interviewers -- we've always had a good personal relationship. It's natural for the young to admire older writers, and for them, in turn, to despise those writers coming up.
"There's a cosmic possibility, in a real imaginative way, that this book has brought everything around. Until 1980 I had jobs, the Times Literary Supplement and then the New Statesman, a very lively literary weekly. The operating policy was that only absolute geniuses should be allowed in. Anything less than outright genius -- a remorselessly nitpicky thing I did on Norman Mailer comes to mind -- could not be tolerated. It was an Oedipal thing, killing the father figure and clearing the rackets for yourself. But that was all in my late twenties; I'm less inclined to beat people up now. The English press has a kind of inbred hostility, much more vigorous than America, but when you're on the receiving end, it palls very quickly.
"The reviews for The Information have been generally fairer and kinder here, but absolutely rancid in England. Unlike America, the feeling is if a book gets a lot of money, it can't be good. And then with the money in hand I'm supposed to take anything else without fucking complaint, as if I'm some kind of scarecrow. The book took me five years to write, and the advance included a book of short stories, as well. But with every novel, for some reason, I've rubbed people up in the wrong way. Brian De Palma once said that he was at a career point where he was ready for dignity, but it never comes in England, you never get that. Though it'd be worrying if you did get dignity, ruinous to be considered a national treasure, people prattling on about what a contribution you'd made. That would catapult you into an orgy of craziness."