The idea that loss of Empire caused a collective psychic schism in the English that they have still not recovered from is not a new one. Martin Amis’s England restates the case and ponders what this means for all of us, but mainly himself. Growing up he was obsessed with class and would ask his father the novelist Kingsley Anus what class they were. The intelligentsia, Anus would tell him – a roaming class where reading trumps breeding, bankroll or postcode. Shartin thinks money is now more important than class which is just adorable. How little he’s learned.
Shartin likes cricket. It embodies everything he rikee about England – indecipherable rules, cream teas, not torturing POWs. He contrasts it with football. It embodies everything he hates about England – simple rules, half-time oranges, laughing at jokes about Belsen. It is above all a “tribal sport” which is one of those things that people who don’t know shit about football say as if it is novel or interesting in some way. He distrusts the jingoistic feelings England vs Germany awakens in him. Cue: footage of football hooligans intercut with a marching band and the old Tomorrow’s World titles.
“You read accounts of football hooliganism” he says indicating that he’s read accounts of football hooliganism. “It is paramilitary” he concludes. For him, football hooliganism expresses the insecurity of a nation in decline. “It’s a very ugly sight” he says. “A feeble copy of imperial power”. If you say so, Sharts.
His thoughts on Empire seem worryingly close to Easy D‘s (above). There’s a lot of barely relevant stock footage of people drinking cups of tea, gurning flag-waving fucks and Churchill smoking a cigar. He talks about his lovably racist grandfather being appalled at the spectacle of blacks driving cars in Washington DC. Upon seeing his first person of colour Anus admits “I burst into tears and said “you’ve got a black face””. 28 years old he was.¹
Anus admits “I burst into tears and said “you’ve got a black face””. 28 years old he was.
For a while the doctrine of multiculturalism stepped into the breach left by the receding Empire. But that kind of thing is a luxury under austerity. “Tolerance contracts” he warns. “But love expands!” an inspirational Internet meme might retort. Let’s hope that never happens.
They seem random observations – some bland, some contentious – most with little supporting evidence. It’s confused, even timid. He likes that the England whipped Germany’s arse in the war and that the French were the collaborationist shits we always thought they would be. What good is sophistication without a spine?
His narrative flags alarmingly so in an attempt to spice things up he recalls his father’s erotic dreams about Elizabeth II. “She’s on my lap” Kingsley told him “I’m feeling her tits and kissing her”. This leads onto women’s fantasies about being ravaged which we assume means raped. “The English don’t get on well with pleasure” he says by way of explanation. Nuff broads have rape fantasies right enough but don’t imagine that’s confined to the English.
So exactly what kind of place is Martin Amis’s England? It’s a fucking mess. Just like everyone else’s.
The verdict: You leave a taste – a bitter one.
Marks out of 10: 5
¹ 10 years old according to some reports, notably his.