Upon the passing of the noteworthy author, Martin Amis, Jim Algie recalls his favourite novel by him, Time’s Arrow, which unfolds in reverse and leads back to the Nazi death camps. That period also inspired a more recent novel called “The Zone of Interest.” The movie version is debuting at the Cannes film fete 2023.  

We live in a world of hyperlinks which bespeaks the Buddhist belief in the interconnectedness of all things. In the obit for Martin Amis in the New York Times is another link leading to a review of the new film adaption of his novel, The Zone of Interest. The Nazi-era drama is shaping up to be one of the most controversial films at the Cannes fete this year. (Its current rating on IMDB is 8.3.)

That, in turn, clicked a cerebral link; my favourite book by Martin Amis is his first novel to deal in part with the Holocaust, Time’s Arrow. One of the snidest artistic statements on the 20th century, this great epoch of supposed progress unfolds in reverse, through the hippie era and Vietnam, to the concentration camps and German railway stations, where time literally stands still, because the clocks are frozen. For the prisoners, there is no time.

The book’s narrator is the conscience and/or soul of an escaped Nazi war criminal – who but Amis would have dared to claim that such a despicable and benign character had either? The German immigrant lives in the US under the alias, Tod Friendly, and works as a doctor.

Photo of author Martin Amis smoking

Martin Amis with the smoking gun that caused his death from esophageal cancer; the same illness that killed his pal Christopher Hitchens.

For the late master of mordant humour, the backwards narrative catalyzes much of the comedy: look at those generous pimps giving money to their working girls. As a narrative device, it gives the familiar, washed-out colours of the death camps, usually rendered in the grainy black-and-white film stock of gas chambers and bulldozed bodies, a fresh coat of black and blood-scarlet paint so the reader can see them anew: “As I remove a syringe the size of a trumpet from the prisoner’s eyeball, he doesn’t even thank me.”

The book is a testimony to one of Amis’s many memorable quotes about the arts: “I think all writers are Martians. They come and say, You haven’t been seeing this place right.”

His more recent World War II novel, in its depiction of the Auschwitz commander building a home for his family near the death camp, is less experimental but no less provocative than Time’s Arrow. So far, the movie adaption of The Zone of Interest has been tipped as one of the frontrunners for the top honours at Cannes this year.

Unintentionally or not, Martin Amis made a dramatically timed exit befitting one of his books. As I read the obit and movie review in twenty minutes, it seemed like one whole spin on the Buddha’s Ferris wheel, sparkling with fairy lights and fleeting illusions, of life, death and rebirth. Most writers would be happy to get reincarnated in a highly regarded film.

Congrats and good night, Mr. Amis. Thanks for the fish and quips.

Jim Algie’s latest book can’t hold a match to the blast furnace of anything by Martin Amis but may be of marginal interest to musicians and punk rockers of a certain vintage. The ebook and paperback are available on Amazon.  

Cover of Joey Ramone book