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THE L: There are many nods to Philip Larkin in The Pregnant Widow. Among them is a funny discussion about a place that you call "Larkinland," the land of sexual dearth, where Keith resides for a few years. I've read Clive James on your days as a bachelor. He paints a picture that leads me to think you've never visited Larkinland yourself.
MARTIN AMIS: No, I did visit it. And it was not for very long. It was for about eight or nine months, and it was terrible. And very, very self-perpetuating. And very difficult to get out of once you're there, because it's as if all the girls have been ringing each other up saying, "Don't go near him." No, I did have a very bleak stretch. Long enough to sense that if it had gone on for longer, it would have got much, much worse, much harder to escape.
THE L: How did you pull out of it, as it were?
MARTIN AMIS: When I met Tina Brown. As Gloria [a character in The Pregnant Widow] says, "You can't have a pretty girlfriend until you've got a pretty girlfriend." But Tina was tremendously ebullient and affectionate in public. And there is a strange sort of tom-tom effect when that happens. If a pretty girl likes you, then the other pretty girls begin to think that you might do.
THE L: Larkin's reputation sank for a while after the publication of his letters, but it seems, perhaps since the mid-90s, that critical respect for him has only grown. How would you rank Larkin among the English poets?
MARTIN AMIS: Well, it's been much on my mind, because I've been doing the Selected Poems for Faber. One of the things I'm going to say in the introduction is that I think all novelists love Philip Larkin, but I'm not sure that all poets do. But I would rate him very highly on the grounds of memorability alone. I think it is a measure of something if you read a poem once and you've almost got it by heart. I think it's a tremendous indicator of merit. It's really a magical thing. It's as if those thoughts and rhythms were already in your mind, and there's a certain inevitability in the way he expresses them. I rate him very highly indeed. But he suffers a bit from being enjoyable, and there's a strange prejudice about enjoyable writers. I think it's all nonsense. All the great writers were enjoyable and humorous for the good reason that life is like that too. It's funny, life.
THE L: Do you think it's something to do with the fact that so many of us are taught how to read literature in universities?
MARTIN AMIS: Yeah, probably. And it's all Beckett's fault, I think. Gloomy cliches are taken to be more honest than what I consider to be really vibrant writing.
THE L: You wrote in Experience that we live in an age of memoir. Do you think novels might go the way of poetry and become the rarified pleasure of a very small audience?
MARTIN AMIS: Yeah, I do. I think the literary novel will return to what it was when I began, which was a minority interest sphere.