How the sexual revolution helped destroy my sister Sally
Martin Amis told today how the sexual revolution of the Sixties and
Seventies played a part in destroying his sister by putting
terrifying pressure on women.
The author is exploring the devastating fallout of the period in his
new novel, The Pregnant Widow.
He has written his late sister, Sally, into the storyline, nine years
after she died at the age of 46.
She had long fought alcoholism and periods of depression, but Amis
today attributed many of her problems to the appalling tensions
created by the sexual revolution.
He said its impact was still being felt because "it's astonishingly
difficult to find a decent deal between men and women and we haven't
found it yet".
The Pregnant Widow is set in 1970, with a group of twentysomethings
gathering to party in an Italian castle.
The new idea in 1970 was sex before marriage, said Amis - but he
claimed such alleged freedom imposed more strain on women than men:
women could emerge as heroines of the sexual revolution, but they
could also fall victim to it, as his sister had done.
Of Sally, he said: "She was pathologically promiscuous. She really
had the mental age of someone who was 12 or 13 and I think she was
terrified. I think what she was doing was seeking protection from
men, but it went the other way, she was often beaten up, abused and
she simply used herself up."
Sally died in 2000 from an infection after five days in intensive
care. She was said never to have recovered from the death of their
father, Kingsley, in 1995. Her marriage in the previous decade had
lasted only months and a baby daughter, conceived after a one-night
stand, had been given up for adoption.
"She died at the age of 46, not of anything sudden; she was one of
the most spectacular victims of the revolution," Amis said. "It would
have needed the Taliban to protect her."
The Pregnant Widow is scheduled for publication early next year. It
is "rather like a country house mystery, except it's not whether the
butler did it but who's going to have sex with whom", said the
author. "It's a tragicomedy with a cautionary tale running alongside
the main story. This is quite emotional."
Amis, 60, is already expecting trouble with the work, having acquired
a reputation in some quarters for inheriting his father's legendary
misogyny, despite persistent claims to the contrary.
He said he had already been told by someone who had read the novel
that he would "get in trouble with the feminists", but insisted:
"It's a very feminist book. They haven't got a case."
Going further, he said he was a feminist himself: "Women can't rise
far enough to suit me. I'm a gynocrat - I'd like rule by women."
Womanhood of another type entirely will be a feature of his next book
but one, State Of England, which will include a character based on
glamour model Jordan, whom Amis has described as "two bags of silicon".
He said he had no regrets about his rudeness: "Snobbery has to start
somewhere and if you can't be snobbish about Katie Price then it's
the end of the world. My character [in State Of England] is a glamour
model and a best-selling poet. And she's not really the same sort of
girl as Jordan. But I mean details of her life, the sort of thing she
goes to every night - the Elle Style awards - that's the sort of
thing I'm interested in."
Speaking at the Richmond Book Now Festival, the author condemned
Britain's obsession with celebrity.
"It is important because if you lavish a really abnormal amount of
attention on the trivial, it sort of dries up the attention you've
got for the serious and it brings the whole level down," he said.
It's a lot to do with Britain's loss of a seat at the high table and
this has given us an interest in the superficial."
Amis has never won Britain's most prestigious literary prize, the
Booker, or indeed any since the Somerset Maugham Award for his first
novel, The Rachel Papers, more than 35 years ago. But he said: "I'm
not a prizewinning kind of writer. I don't bring people together.
Everyone likes my novel, Money, but the chairman of the Booker Prize
that year nominated it as the worst novel. So that's how against the
grain I tend to be."
The title of his latest book comes from Russian thinker Alexander
Herzen, who said a revolution created "not an heir but a pregnant
widow". Amis elaborated: "In other words, revolution isn't a flip.
It's a churning process that goes on for a long time before the baby
is born. It's not the instant replacement of one order by another."
The writer returned to London in 2006 after living in Uruguay for
more than two years. He said he enjoyed the contrast of the capital
with his grey upbringing in Swansea: "What I love about London is how
multiracial it is. I don't think I could live in provincial Britain now."