Last May I took my sixteen-year-old son to see Martin Amis ‘in conversation’ with Robert McCrum at the Norwich Playhouse. Amis came on late and left early, declined to speak on the topic advertised (‘The writer and freedom’), nodded a weary head to all of three questions and later granted a disobliging interview to the local paper about the minimal bar facilities available on the train home. But the really shocking thing about this unprecedentedly low-par performance was the sight of Amis himself wandering on stage to inaugurate it: a grey-haired figure in an ill-advised pair of leather trousers whose legs hardly knew which way to carry him and seemed profoundly grateful for the sofa onto which they eventually collapsed. Suitably enough, The Pregnant Widow, from which Amis read – rather well, as it happened, if only for ten minutes – is about growing old.
The repository for Amis’s long-incubated thoughts on the ageing process is a stricken, middle-aged and youth-oppressed character named Keith Nearing. Now, what is it, or rather – to use an Amis-ism – what is it about Martin Amis and the name ‘Keith’? First there was Keith Whitehead, the