Martin Amis. DEAD BABIES. Cape, London 1975.
Current Selling Prices
MODERN FIRST EDITION
Margaret Drabble wrote in 1976 in the New York Times Book Review that 'Dead Babies' was '...about the nature of civilization, and the world it portrays is quite extraodinarily repulsive....a satiric book, written by a puritan, who, like that other satirist Swift, is deeply repelled by the normal functions of the human body as well as the more abnormal ones. Does it work, as a satire? On balance, it is probably too extreme, and its targets both too many and not sufficiently serious....Moreover, it is not at all funny. Its characters are so uniformly unpleasant that they are hard to distinguish. .. . It must be said that this book in its way is memorable. One might want to forget it, but it won't be easy." As I recall it was pretty funny. It is now grouped with Houellebecq's brilliant 'Atomised' ('Les Particules Elementaires') - a zeitgeist piece, an assault on the values of the Sixties and their disastrous effects etc.,
In the background of the novel is a shadowy terrorist group committed to murderous gestures - the Conceptualists. The book was filmed with Paul Bettany in 2000 (rated by some, hated by many, liked by Amis) with the group transmogrified into internet anarchists. Publisher's found the title distasteful and it was re-issued in paperback as 'Dark Secrets' but has since reverted to 'Dead Babies' -- a reference to outmoded and antiquated values and ideas.
Amis's father Kingsley accused his son of '...breaking the rules, buggering about with the reader, drawing attention to himself...' and is said to have given up reading him and thrown the book out of a window when he came across a character in 'Money' called 'Martin Amis'. Recently Amis fils came in for a lot of bad reviews for his novel 'Yellow Dog' (to my mind yet another in a line of masterworks). He gamely countered with:-
'...no one wants to read a difficult literary novel or deal with a prose style which reminds them how thick they are. There's a push towards egalitarianism, making writing more chummy and interactive, instead of a higher voice, and that's what I go to literature for."
VALUE? Dealers trying to sell a copy of the book often claim this is his rarest novel, however although a better book, it is worth less than 'The Rachel Papers' his debut novel. Think £200 to £300 for a limpid example and £400+ for 'Rachel.' The one you really want with Amis is the foolishly trendy livre d'artiste ' The Coincidence of the Arts' (Coromandel, Paris 1999) a limited edition of 55, with prints by Mario Testino, signed by Amis and Testino. Russell values it at £2000 and there are no copies on any web bookmall. I want one.
TRIVIA. Amis and smoking. Amis was a serious smoker of Old Holborn (?) roll ups. Now as Professor of English at Manchester (with quite a bit to say about Islam) he may have knocked it on the head or switched to nicotine gum. He once claimed that without baccy his prose style would change , even conceiving a fag free opening line such as 'It was a baking hot day...' In 'The Information' he says of the protagonist '...he felt the desire to smoke a cigarette even when he was smoking a cigarette.’ Pic below of the alternatively titled Panther paperback, faultless copies of which can command a tenner. Amis's current publicity over Islam and his feud with the Spart-like Terry Eagleton is probably adversely affecting his first edition prices. From a dealer's point of view the best kind of author is a recluse, a 'fiercely private' enigma, one who follows the advice of Serge Gainsbourg - 'Sois riche et tais-toi.'