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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

I Hate Martin Amis et al.

Peter Barry

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To purchase I Hate Martin Amis et al.

Title: I Hate Martin Amis et al.
Author: Peter Barry
Genre: Novel
Written: 2011
Length: 221 pages
Availability: I Hate Martin Amis et al. - US
I Hate Martin Amis et al. - UK
I Hate Martin Amis et al. - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B : quite well done, but discomfitingly ugly

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Sydney Morning Herald . 30/7/2011 Dorothy Johnston

  From the Reviews:
  • "There's no doubt Barry's anti-hero is an intensely disturbing creation. It's too easy simply to hate and then dismiss him. Through Zorec, Barry explores the ways an overriding obsession to be published leads to inhumanity and madness. (...) Like the characters of Voltaire or Jonathan Swift, Zorec has no idea how much he parodies himself every time he opens his mouth. But I couldn't laugh (.....) Barry pitches his narrative finally beyond humour, certainly beyond entertainment. (...) It's not for the squeamish. It's a book guaranteed to give any writer, or would-be writer, nightmares." - Dorothy Johnston, Sydney Morning Herald

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       I Hate Martin Amis et al. is narrated by Milan Zorec, who grew up in a house that: "was, and still is, more like a bookshop in Hay-on-Wye than a home", his English mother a passionate reader (while his Serbian-born father doesn't read at all). Milan, now in his mid-thirties, has always dreamed of being a writer; he qualified as a teacher but in disgust at the Thatcherite system refused to become part of it and became a school janitor instead. He always wrote, however, recently finishing, after three years, a fourth novel; he's also written eight or so short stories -- but, as he notes, he hasn't had any success with any of his work: "they've all been turned down".
       The last rejection clearly hit him pretty hard, though it's only near the end of the account that he recounts just how hard, and how he reacted. His father was unimpressed by his efforts anyway, dismissive even without reading it: "how can someone write about life when they've never experienced it ? What's he ever done with his life ?" Meanwhile, the girlfriend that has now left him diagnosed:

     You'll never be a writer because you can't empathize with people. You're too caught up in your own feelings to understand how someone else feels.
       Milan has reached a point where he feels he needs to shake things up, and he opts to explore experience, rather than empathy. His choice of experience is extreme, however: it is 1995, and he volunteers his services as a sniper in Sarajevo, taking up a volunteer-post on 'sniper alley'. The novel is more or less the journal he keeps during his time there, reflecting on what he is doing, what brought him there -- and the literary establishment that he is unable to break into, with Martin Amis' The Information, which he buys at the airport on his way to Yugoslavia, the text he returns to, both jealously and admiringly, most often. It's a radical journey of self-discovery bu someone who feels that all traditional -- and reasonable -- avenues have been closed off to him:
That's one of the reasons I'm writing this -- but not the main one -- to explain to myself how I got here, and why. Is there a pattern in my life, in anyone's life, or is it all meaningless and pointless ?
       As outlandish as Milan's idea is, he's not completely off the mark: "The sniper novelist hasn't been done before, and that's what will make me stand out". The problem, of course, is that he has joined up with a widely reviled group -- though his own Serb background can arguably justify that; dad is certainly on board with Milan's choice --, and, more significantly, goes there to do something that is almost universally considered morally reprehensible. He is not even a regular soldier, shooting at other people in the course of regular combat -- and his targets are almost all innocents, civilians.
       At first, Milan has some difficulties adjusting to this absurd new situation. But Barry does not have him take the easy way out, a sense of what might be beyond the pale kicking in and Milan high-tailing it back home. It takes a bit, but Milan does come to do what they expect of him, picking off people who venture into his sights.
       In this sense, I Hate Martin Amis et al. is an ugly novel, showing the worst of mankind, a complete moral bankruptcy. The others there do the same -- and worse, as in the farmhouse where the captured women are kept and abused, which even Milan can't stomach enough to participate in --, but Milan is the narrator, explaining and so also trying to excuse himself. For all the brutal honesty -- as much emphasis on the brutal -- he also tries to differentiate himself from the pack he's surrounded by. And he also has a cause he's doing all this for.
       This makes for very uneasy reading. As amusing as the descriptions of Milan coming up against the literary establishment are, his over-reaction, first in England -- we eventually get an account of what it was -- and then, especially, in Sarajevo are way over the top. The passionate writer is, of course, a literary mainstay -- but, as with so many, would-be writers Milan is, in no small part, looking for something else -- the validation of readers. So, for example, while acknowledging Martin Amis' great talent, he also can convince himself:
(H)e's a published writer and I'm an unpublished writer. That's the main difference between us. He has a public, and I have none.
       So what Milan actually wants to be is a writer-as-public-figure. (He is, after all, already a writer -- with four complete novels ! -- but apparently, if they're not published and being read (or remaindered ?), it doesn't count.)
       I Hate Martin Amis et al. isn't straight-out satire, which likely would have been easier to stomach. One might say: admirably, Barry treats the material quite seriously -- which makes it all the harder to take. It makes for an ugly story -- as most war-place-stories are -- with a narrator whom Barry makes very difficult to have any sympathy for. Part of the problem is, of course, that the stakes seem so dreadfully low -- yes, it means everything to Milan to get published, but it's kind of hard to see that as such a big deal. (For god's sake, he should just have tried self-publishing his books .....)
       I Hate Martin Amis et al. is reasonably gripping, not least in stringing readers along as to just how far Milan will go, and Barry's portrait of the failed writer (and failed human) is strong. In this social media age -- though it is set before then --, it is perhaps easier to relate to a character willing to sell his soul in the hopes of recognition (as published writer), but it does stand at odds with the writing-ideal itself: a fundamental problem remains that Milan cares about being published much more than about writing. (This allows Barry to have some fun with and at the expense of the literary establishment, especially the ridiculous and obstructive middlemen known as literary agents, but this stands quite at odds with just how serious Milan's choices (and their consequences) then are.) It makes for a decidedly uncomfortable writer-fantasy.
       Barry accomplishes what he sets out to do quite well, but I Hate Martin Amis et al. is very hard to like.

- M.A.Orthofer, 20 June 2023

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I Hate Martin Amis et al.: Reviews: Peter Barry: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Author Peter Barry was born in 1944.

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© 2023 the complete review

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