This, surely, is not what anyone expected from the author of ”Money” and ”London Fields.” Less reminiscence than confessional, less autobiography than autotherapy, Martin Amis’ Experience: A Memoir sets aside the compulsive self-assurance that has juiced up Amis’ writing – fiction or non – for nearly 30 years; in its place, Amis offers detailed and painstaking insight into the origins of his work. ”I have seen what perhaps no writer should ever see,” he writes. ”The place in the unconscious where my novels come from.” What looms largest there is his difficult relationship with his father, the novelist Kingsley Amis, as well as ordeals of loss and discovery: the murder of a beloved cousin by a notorious English serial killer and his first meeting with an 18-year-old daughter born out of wedlock. He also provides his side of stories well chewed over in the British and literary media – his orthodontic surgery, the crumbling of his friendship with Julian Barnes, and his divorce and subsequent remarriage.
Amis flings the sheets off his personal life so unabashedly that we feel at first a certain frisson of voyeuristic embarrassment; by the end, we shiver not at Amis’ unremitting candor, but at the suffering – emotional, dental, or otherwise – that it brings into such startling relief.