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    Lists | March 13, 2015

    Hanya Yanagihara: IMG Nine Tips for Finishing That Novel

    My second novel, A Little Life — about a group of men in New York and their friendship over the course of 30 years — will be published... Continue »
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      A Little Life

      Hanya Yanagihara 9780385539258

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Experience: A Memoir (Vintage International)


Experience: A Memoir (Vintage International) Cover




Introductory: My Missing

— Dad.

This was my older son, Louis, then aged eleven.

— Yes?

My dad would have said, '... Yeeesss?' — with a dip in it, to signal mild but invariable irritation. I once asked him why he did this and he said, 'Well I'm already here, aren't I?' For him, the Dad-Yes? interlude was a clear redundancy, because we were in the same room together and established as having some kind of conversation, however desultory (and unenlivening, from his point of view). I saw what he meant; but five minutes later I would find myself saying, 'Dad.' And then I would brace myself for an especially vehement affirmative. I was a teenager before I broke the habit. Children need a beat of time, to secure attention while the thought is framed.

This is from I Like It Here (1958), Kingsley's third and most close-to-life novel:



'How big's the boat that's taking us to Portugal?'

'I don't know really. Pretty big, I should think.'

'As big as a killer whale?'

'What? Oh yes, easily.'

'As big as a blue whale?'

'Yes, of course, as big as any kind of whale.'


'Yes, much bigger.'

'How much bigger?'

'Never you mind how much bigger. Just bigger is all I can tell you.'

There is a break, and the discussion resumes:

... 'Dad.'


'If two tigers jumped on a blue whale, could they kill it?'

'Ah, but that couldn't happen, you see. If the whale was in the sea the tigers would drown straight away, and if the whale was ...'

'But supposing they did jump on the whale?'

... 'Oh, God. Well, I suppose the tigers'd kill the whale eventually, but it'd take a long time.'

'How long would it take one tiger?'

'Even longer. Now I'm not answering any more questions about whales or tigers.'


'Oh, what is it now, David?'

'If two sea-serpents ...'

How well I remember those vastly stimulating chats. My tigers weren't just ordinary tigers, either: they were sabre-toothed tigers. And the gladiatorial bouts I dreamed up were far more elaborate than I Like It Here allows. If two boa constrictors, four barracuda, three anacondas and a giant squid ... I must have been five or six at the time.

In retrospect I can see that these questions would have played on my father's deepest fears. Kingsley, who refused to drive and refused to fly, who couldn't easily be alone in a bus, a train or a lift (or in a house, after dark), wasn't exactly keen on boats — or sea-serpents. Besides, he didn't want to go to Portugal, or anywhere else. The trip was forced on him by the terms and conditions of the Somerset Maugham Award — a `deportation order' he called it in a letter to Philip Larkin (`forced to go abroad, bloody forced mun'). He won the prize for his first novel, Lucky Jim, published in 1954. Twenty years later I would win it too.

The Rachel Papers appeared in mid-November, 1973. On the night of 27 December my cousin, Lucy Partington, who was staying with her mother in Gloucestershire, was driven into Cheltenham to visit an old friend, Helen Render. Lucy and Helen spent the evening talking about their future; they put together a letter of application to the Courtauld Institute in London, where Lucy hoped to continue studying medieval art. They parted at 10.15. It was a three-minute walk to the bus stop. She never posted the letter and she never boarded the bus. She was twenty-one. And it was another twenty-one years before the world found out what happened to her.

— Dad.

— Yes?

Louis and I were in the car — the locus of so many parental dealings, after a while, when the Chauffeuring Years begin to stretch out ahead of you like an autobahn.

— If nothing else was changed by you not being famous, would you still want to be famous?

A well-executed question, I thought. He knew that fame was a necessary by-product of acquiring a readership. But apart from that? What? Fame is a worthless commodity. It will occasionally earn you some special treatment, if that is what you're interested in getting. It will also earn you a far more noticeable amount of hostile curiosity. I don't mind that — but then I'm a special case. What tends to single me out for it also tends to inure me to it. In a word — Kingsley.

— I don't think so, I answered.

— Why?

— Because it messes with the head.

And he took this in, nodding.

* * *

It used to be said that everyone had a novel in them. And I used to believe it, and still do in a way. If you're a novelist you must believe it, because that's part of your job: much of the time you are writing the fiction that other people have in them. Just now, though, in 1999, you would probably be obliged to doubt the basic proposition: what everyone has in them, these days, is not a novel but a memoir.

We live in the age of mass loquacity. We are all writing it or at any rate talking it: the memoir, the apologia, the c.v., the cri de coeur. Nothing, for now, can compete with experience — so unanswerably authentic, and so liberally and democratically dispensed. Experience is the only thing we share equally, and everyone senses this. We are surrounded by special cases, by special pleadings, in an atmosphere of universal celebrity. I am a novelist, trained to use experience for other ends. Why should I tell the story of my life?

I do it because my father is dead now, and I always knew I would have to commemorate him. He was a writer and I am a writer; it feels like a duty to describe our case — a literary curiosity which is also just another instance of a father and a son. This will involve me in the indulgence of certain bad habits. Namedropping is unavoidably one of them. But I've been indulging that habit, in a way, ever since I first said, 'Dad.'

I do it because I feel the same stirrings that everyone else feels. I want to set the record straight (so much of this is already public), and to speak, for once, without artifice. Though not without formality. The trouble with life (the novelist will feel) is its amorphousness, its ridiculous fluidity. Look at it: thinly plotted, largely themeless, sentimental and ineluctably trite. The dialogue is poor, or at least violently uneven. The twists are either predictable or sensationalist. And it's always the same beginning; and the same ending ... My organisational principles, therefore, derive from an inner urgency, and from the novelist's addiction to seeing parallels and making connections. The method, plus the use of footnotes (to preserve the collateral thought), should give a clear view of the geography of a writer's mind. If the effect sometimes seems staccato, tangential, stop-go, etc., then I can only say that that's what it's like, on my side of the desk.

And I do it because it has been forced on me. I have seen what perhaps no writer should ever see: the place in the unconscious where my novels come from. I couldn't have stumbled on it unassisted. Nor did I. I read about it in the newspaper ...

Someone is no longer here. The intercessionary figure, the father, the man who stands between the son and death, is no longer here; and it won't ever be the same. He is missing. But I know it is common; all that lives must die, passing through nature to eternity. My father lost his father, and my children will lose theirs, and their children (this is immensely onerous to contemplate) will lose theirs.

On the shelf by my desk I have a small double-sided picture-stand which contains two photographs. One is black-and-white and of passport size: it shows a teenage schoolgirl in a V-necked sweater, shirtsleeves and tie. Long brown hair parted at the centre, spectacles, the beginnings of a smile. Above her head she has written, in block capitals: undesirable alien. This is Lucy Partington ... The second photograph is in colour: it shows a toddler in a dark flower dress, smocked at the chest, with short puffed sleeves and pink trim. She has fine blonde hair. Her smile is demure: pleased, but quietly pleased.

This is Delilah Seale.

The photographs are kept together, and for almost twenty years their subjects lived together in the back of my mind. Because these are, or were, my missing.

Letter from School

Sussex Tutors,

55 Marine Parade,

Brighton, Sussex.

23rd Oct. [1967]

Dearest Dad and Jane,

Thanks awfully for your letter. So we all appear to be working like fucking fools. I seem to be flitting manically from brash self-confidence to whimpering depression; the English is all very fine, but the Latin I find difficult, tedious, and elaborately unrewarding. It would be so boring if it buggered up my Oxford Entrance paper. I spend about 2-3 hours per day on it, but I feel a painful lack of basic knowledge — not being one of those little sods who has been chanting `amo, amas, amat', from the age of eighteen months. Anyway, the set book (Aeneid Bk. II) is pretty splendid, and if I slog through that with sufficient rigour I should be O.K. on that part of the 'O' level paper.

Mr Ardagh decided that the best plan for Ox. Ent. is to choose about 6 chaps and know them pretty thoroughly, rather than farting about with a bit of everyone. I have chosen: Shakespeare; Donne and Marvell, Coleridge and Keats; Jane Austen; [Wilfred] Owen; Greene; and possibly old Yeats as well. I do enjoy the English but I must say that I get periods of desperately wanting something else to occupy myself with. The prospect of teaching has lost its glow because it means that I will be dealing with the same sort of thing for the next 4 years without much of a break. I hope you don't think I'm off the idea of Eng. Lit., because I find myself suffused with an ardour for sheer quantity of consumption. In my last few days in London I read `Middlemarch' (in 3 days), `The Trial' (Kafka is a fucking fool — in 1 day) and `The Heart of the Matter' (in 1 day), and even here I manage a couple of novels a week (plus lots of poetry). Its [sic] just that I'm a bit cheesed off with applying myself to the same ideas all the time — but I shouldn't think its [sic] anything that a paternal — or step-maternal — harangue won't correct. I'm sorry to be a bore, and it's probably merely a phase — might even be character-building, who knows.

I thought it very representative of your integrity, Jane, to warn me of the defficiencies [sic] of Nashville. Much as I'd love to see you both, it does seem that I'll be doing too much fire-ironing and pie-fingering (I'm sure Jane could adapt that to one of her swirling mixed metaphors), to be able to get away for a full 2-3 weeks. I might have an interview at Oxford as late as the 20th of Dec. and various replies could start coming in as early as Jan 1st. This, coupled with the dire deterrent of U.S. T.V. being lousy, will, I fear, prevent me from coming over. It is a pity because I would dearly love to see you both.

I see young Bruce pretty regularly, but not regularly enough, it seems, for him to contrive to secure adequate stocks of fish-cakes for my visits. However he seems in fine form ... Predictably enough the very word is like a bell to toll me back to Latin Unseens, prose constructions, and like trivia.

Please write soon, I miss you both terribly,

All my love,

Mart x x x

P.S. Convey my cordial regards to Karen — there are no doleful regrets there because, as far as I can remember, she should be about 9' 6" tall by now.

P.P.S. On [sic] retrospect I consider `Middlemarch' to be FUCKING good - Jane Austen + passion + dimension. Very fine. Love Mart.

Product Details

Amis, Martin
New York
20th century
Novelists, English
Novelists, English -- 20th century.
Amis, Martin
memoir;autobiography;biography;non-fiction;literature;fiction;british;writers;20th century;literary;childhood;england
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Vintage International (Paperback)
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
7.97x5.18x.88 in. .87 lbs.

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Experience: A Memoir (Vintage International) Used Trade Paper
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Product details 432 pages Vintage Books USA - English 9780375726835 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Fuses humor, intellect and daring with a new gravitas and warmth....A loving tribute to [Amis's] father and a fulfillment of his own abundant talents as a writer."
"Review" by , "A splendid writer....The book hums with the same antic prose and looping comic riffs that characterize Amis?s fiction."
"Review" by , "Superb memoir...a moving account of [Amis?s] coming of age as an artist and a man."
"Review" by , "Remarkable....It is a portrait of a father and son...animated by clear-eyed literary insight and enduring love and affection."
"Review" by , "Martin's elliptical memoir is a very odd mixture, but easily the most memorable and moving thing in it is his portrait of his father....In Experience, Martin eschews any...attempts at political whitewashing. If anything, he rubs in Kingsley's displeasing opinions, though as part of a rounded, penetrating, touching description of his father, in hs prime and in decline."
"Review" by , "Experience is a portmanteau of personal history, ancestor worship and promiscuous opinionizing, and a piñata of literary gossip that Amis beats with a stick, causing many names to drop....And if we stay put till the last 100 pages, it will break our heart. But meanwhile we go far too often to the dentist."
"Review" by , "Experience is not just an exploration of the father-son relationship, but also of what it is to be a writer; more specifically, what it is to be a writer in a culture obsessed with the idea of celebrity."
"Review" by , "The entertainingly footnoted volume loops back and forth in time to chronicle the author's coming of age with becoming earnestness and humor and serves up some charmingly antic set pieces including what must surely stand as the darkest and funniest account of dental surgery ever written. The book will be best remembered, however, for its wonderfully vivid portrait of the author's late father, the comic novelist and poet Kingsley Amis...In Experience,..,Mr. Amis speaks...of the 'ordinary miracles and ordinary disasters' of real life — of what it means to be a son, and what it means to be a father with children of his own. The result is Mr. Amis's most fully realized book yet — a book that fuses his humor, intellect and daring with a new gravitas and warmth, a book that stands, at once, as a loving tribute to his father and as a fulfillment of his own abundant talents as a writer."
"Review" by , "Sure, Experience shows an evolution in Amis' work, and a great tenderness in the portrait of Kingsley, even from a distance, as well as hurt and betrayal over his rift with writer Julian Barnes. But where Experience doesn't deliver on its autobiographical promise is in its avoidance of the lesser horrors and humor of everyday defeats: the divorces, the responsibilities to your kids, the unspectacular and unsensational events."
"Review" by , "Fuses humor, intellect and daring with a new gravitas and warmth."
"Review" by , "Hums with the same antic prose and looping comic riffs that characterize Amis' fiction.... [Amis is] a splendid writer."
"Review" by , "With its recurrent themes and nimble shifts from one period to another, Experience is well made and ingeniously stitched together. It's also extremely well written."
"Review" by , "[Experience is] a sublime essay giving shape and meaning to [Amis's] chaotic life.... Experience is an unexpectedly emotional odyssey. Experience is a novelist's memoir in which events are cunningly cross-threaded and intercut like a plot."
"Review" by , "Like only a handful of other literary memoirs, Experience is more than the mere facts of the author's life collected in neat chronological order. Experience succeeds where most other memoirs fail because it's really a superbly written novel starring Martin Amis as its amusingly self-deprecating central protagonist, his crotchety but ultimately loveable father and fellow novelist, Kingsley Amis, as his foil, and with the difficulties and joys of family life firmly in place as its central theme.... Experience is a long, wise poem in typically ebullient Amis prose in praise of all that endures: creativity, friendship and love. Most novels should be so richly fulfilling."
"Review" by , "What mustn't get lost is that the rest can be wonderfully, wryly funny. Adolescent torpor is sleepily reimagined."
"Review" by , "Striking and satisfying. It's an edgy and electrifying read. [Amis's world is] a wonderful place of privilege, celebrity and intellectual intrigue on the one hand, and a dark, woeful realm of emotional tragedy, physical pain and public persecution of the other."
"Review" by , "His unflinching portrayal of his fraught but ultimately loving relationship with the father gives Experience a dimension that the Martin Amis oeuvre, for all its acid brilliance, has too often lacked. This is a compassionate book, and a very moving one.... He ends up with a book that's true to the way memory really works — obsessive, elliptical, incomplete, maddeningly non-linear, but deeply revealing."
"Review" by , "Rather than focus extensively on the literary high life, Martin Amis uses his formidable skills to dissect the more troubling aspects of a life very much in progress. The result is an unusually skillful and unconventional memoir with the tension and release of great fiction."
"Review" by , "[A] tender, funny...sometimes gut-wrenching memoir.... Fans of the brilliant and eccentric Amises — moral satirist father and satiric misanthropist son — will be amply gratified by the sheer energetic range and depth and human circumstance, of the experience that heaves itself up from these pages.... His book thrills and breaks the heart."
"Review" by , "Rather than focus extensively on the literary high life, Martin Amis uses his formidable skills to dissect the more troubling aspects of a life very much in progress. The result is an unusually skillful and unconventional memoir with the tension and release of great fiction."
"Review" by , "Those who have marvelled at the wry and unforgiving fiction its prose like a strobe light dancing over vistas of urban sleaze and greed will likely be taken aback. They may be compelled to tears by a book which is the most touching Amis has written."
"Review" by , "This memoir engagingly reads like a novel where the literary gifts of the son's sardonic wit, linguistic candour are shown off in the eulogizing of the father, Sir Kingsley Amis, as a womanizer, alcoholic and storyteller whose footsteps Amis traces in his own coming of age as a writer."
"Synopsis" by , The son of the great comic novelist Kingsley Amis, the author explores his relationship with his father and writes about the various crises of Kingsley's life. "Experience" deconstructs the changing literary scene, too, including Amis's portraits of Saul Bellow, Salman Rushdie, Allan Bloom, Philip Larkin, and Robert Graves. of photos.
"Synopsis" by , US
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