One reads collections of reprinted book reviews by distinguished novelists for several reasons: from simple curiosity (to see what they think of old friends and recent acquaintances), in search of low-level quirks and self-betrayals (the interest in big-game hunting or bronzed musclemen relentlessly pursued across the decades), but above all in the hope, or rather the confident expectation, that what emerges will tell you something – and something pretty revealing – about the creative impulse lurking all the while in the background. It happens with Updike, it happens with Ballard (to name a couple of writers whom publishing economics allow to get away with this kind of vanity parade), and it certainly happens with Martin Amis.
It should be said immediately that The War Against Cliché, notwithstanding its stodgy, portentous title, is the best compendium of its kind that you are likely to come across this publishing season, if not this decade. Amis the novelist? Well, every other year one devotes a thousand words or so to trying to work out what one thinks of the showy, self-absorbed performing artist that is Mart in full flow. Amis the critic, on the other hand, shapes up – to use a formulation much favoured