Dialogue between Salman Rushdie and Martin Amis

Dialogue between Salman Rushdie and Martin Amis

Friends and literature, which is to life like a stiletto heel to the foot. A chat between the two writers for Interview magazine

In September 2020, after the release of Martin Amis' Inside Story, Salman Rushdie interviewed the British writer for Interview magazine. We publish here an excerpt of that chat.

Salman Rushdie: I got the feeling that when you write these very detailed and evocative portraits of people like Saul Bellow and Christopher Hitchens, you are telling us the truth. You are telling us what they were like, what they said and what they did. To what extent is this so?

Martin Amis: I made up conversations with Christopher and, to a lesser extent, Saul, and then a lot with Philip Larkin. But I know what their voices were like and what their viewpoints were. So even though they never said it in my presence, I trusted the likelihood. The writing stylises. A novel is a stylization of reality. I always think the difference between a novel and real life is the difference between a woman's shoe and a foot. The shoe, with a stiletto heel, looks nothing like a foot.

SR: Throughout the book (Inside Story, ndt), you address the reader directly. Do you have a clear idea of ​​who your reader is? Can you feel him writing?

BUT: The relationship between the writer and the reader is mysterious and, in my view, little explored. In its simplest form, it's a matter of direct transmission: I'm telling a story. But it goes much deeper, until reader and writer become identical, almost indivisible. Obviously, one must not imitate the reader, but one must pay close attention to him. The frame of this novel is a direct dialogue with the reader. My ideal reader is very young. How old is yours?

SR: I am happy to say that I still have young readers. You have this fear that your reader will grow old with you, don't you?

BUT: Well, I think you write the novels you want to read.

SR: Do you think you could write a more instructive book on the nature of writing?

BUT: No. I remember, a long time ago, having a conversation with Kazuo Ishiguro, whose point of view was, "If you haven't written something by 40, you're screwed." How old was Flaubert when he wrote Madame Bovary? How old was Tolstoy when he wrote Anna Karenina? And his conclusion was that if you haven't made it by 40, you're basically screwed. And if you haven't made it by 50, you're totally screwed. […]

SR: A self-portrait through the portrait of people who have been very important to you. Was Christopher really the starting point?

BUT: I always knew it would dominate the narrative, because that's what it always has. You've been close to him. We know how unstoppable he was.

SR: I must say I had this feeling when we were in Houston at the home of Michael Zilkha, record producer and publisher, on what happened to be Christopher's last birthday. He was quite awake that day. He didn't look like he was dying. But I remember coming back from that day thinking, "He doesn't have long to live."

BUT: Well, at one point Christopher was told by doctors that he couldn't attend a family event and Ian McEwan asked him, 'Do you think you'll never see England again?' Christopher admits in his little book Mortality that he stiffened, but said Ian was right to ask and that was exactly what worried him. What remains a mystery to me is how much Christopher believed he could survive. It's a complicated question of morals, of not admitting defeat or cowering with your face to the wall.

SR: Well, he kept working until almost the last minute. […] If Christopher were still around, what would he think of the world today? We are currently in a double crisis: on the one hand the pandemic, on the other the urgent review of race relations in the country, and all this is happening under the Trump umbrella. We both signed Harper's letter against cancel culture. Someone asked me the other day, “If Christopher was there, do you think he would have been canceled because of all of his abusive comments?”

BUT: Contrarian was almost Christopher's middle name. And he demonstrated his contrarian spirit on big things like the Iraq war and the Bush/Cheney vote in 2004. I'm not sure how he would have reacted to Trump in 2016.

SR: Well, he would have had a problem because he hated the Clintons so much that supporting Hillary would have been impossible for him.

BUT: Remember how indignantly he pointed out that Reagan told a lie a day? Trump says one every 10 minutes.

SR: When we talked about Ishiguro earlier, it occurred to me that when we were all young and starting out, there was this attempt to group us together as a kind of generation.

BUT: I definitely feel like I'm part of a generation that has seen quite a radical change in the way novels are written and the way novels are read. The reader can no longer be expected to make assumptions, deductions, second thoughts. Writers now have to come out. This is how “movements” are born. Ambitious young drunks, late at night, saying, “We're not going to do that again. We will do this instead." But in the end everyone goes his way.

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