Posted by: Lisa Hill | June 23, 2011

I Hate Martin Amis et al (2011), by Peter Barry

I Hate Martin Amis Et Al

Well, after all the excitement of last night’s Miles Franklin ceremony, it’s time to get back to business here on ANZLL…

The only good thing about having a crook back is that you get to lie around in bed reading books.   The bad thing is that the medication ‘may affect mental alertness and concentration’.  I hope I’m going to do justice to Peter Barry’s astonishing debut novel…

If one of the criteria for a successful novel is that it should make the reader think then I Hate Martin Amis et Al is a successful novel.  There are not many novels that have made me pause to think in the way that this one has, over and over again.

What if the commercial realities of modern publishing are denying us great literature because readers are swamped with dross from creative writing schools? What if great writers are discouraged because nobody’s got time to nurture potential talent any more? What if the value systems of editors are so corrupted by the commercial imperative that they no longer care about the intrinsic worth of literature but only want to publish profitable best-sellers? What if the publishing industry becomes so obsessed with novelty for the sake of the sales it generates, that it loses any sense of integrity about the works it publishes?

And even if the author achieves the almost impossible…

The author’s fighting a losing battle.  He sends his writing out into the world and has no idea where it’ll end up, nor who’ll pick it up.  He doesn’t even know if he has an audience ‘out there’.  He then has to hope that whatever he’s written will be understood, that his message will be correctly interpreted.  Writing is an inexact science, a shot in the dark without sight-vision goggles.  More than that, the gratification, if there ever is to be any, is delayed, possibly for years, sometimes for decades.  It’s anorgasmia for authors. (p200)

The plot in Peter Barry’s novel is bizarre: failed novelist becomes a successful sniper in the Siege of Sarajevo (1992-1996) because he needs a unique experience as inspiration for a novel in order to attract attention.  The writing is superb; the technique is masterful;and  the subject matter is deeply unsettling.

The city is covered by a grey mist.  The dark cobblestoned streets shine damply, and the river tumbles between stone embankments and ancient bridges.  I’m reminded of a Scottish town.  It has the same old world feel.  Probably it would be more accurate to say it’s a city from the end of the Second World War, a Dresden or a Berlin.  It’s almost impossible …to see any building that’s remained untouched by the bombardment.  Like soldiers returning from the front, heavily scarred and with limbs missing, or bandaged carefully in a vain attempt to stop their guts falling out, the faces of the skeletal buildings are gouged by shrapnel and bullets, complete walls have disappeared, and windows have blown away and been replaced by plastic sheeting.  They could fall at a any time.

Barry’s portrait of a man so intent on his own obsession that he becomes completely dissociated from ordinary humanity is chilling, but it’s a mistake to blame his unlikeable character. His initial motivations were naive and selfish; his latter amorality is a consequence of war. (Indeed as the plot progresses Milan Zorec may actually have become mad:  his ‘relationship’ with the puppet decoy Gilhooley is so reminiscent of Tom Hank’s ‘friendship’ with the Wilson volleyball in the movie Cast Away.)

But despite the sardonic excesses of his very black humour,  Barry knows when to stop.  The passages about the rape of Bosnian Women by Serbs in the Bosnian War (1992-1995) are humane and compassionate.  Zorec despite his lust for experiences that he can use as fodder for his novel, leaves the farmhouse without succumbing to the hatred and revenge that he so dispassionately observes and analyses.  He can exploit his girlfriend to the point of no return; he can threaten and intimidate the publishers who reject him; he can kill even a child from a distance and make that child’s mother suffer a long, drawn-out grief-stricken death – but he cannot make himself participate in the intimate degradation of mass rape as a weapon of war.

I Hate Martin Amis et al is not for the faint-hearted, but it’s an unforgettable novel that asks the important question: what would or could any one of us do in extremis, in a war?

When the barriers come down…when the restriction, rules and laws are removed, when we have no one to answer to but ourselves, that’s the time when we find out what kind of person we are. (p233)

Book groups unafraid to confront the real world will have a great time discussing the issues that arise from reading this book.   It won First Prize in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript.

Emmett Stinson reviewed it at Known Unknowns.  He knows more about Martin Amis than I do (I’ve never read him, and have no plans to), so it is worth your while to visit his review as well.  (But IMO it’s not crucial to the novel to know more about Amis than is shown in Zorec’s ravings anyway.)

Rowena Wilson reviewed it at Out of Print Writing as part of her Indie Books Project.  BTW Rowena’s own novel Searching for Von Honningsbergs is available at Screwpulp.

© Lisa Hill

Author: Peter Barry
Title:  I Hate Martin Amis et Al
Publisher: Transit Lounge, 2011
ISBN: 9780980846201
Source: Review copy courtesy Transit Lounge  Publishing.

Fishpond: I Hate Martin Amis Et Al
Kobo eReader: I Hate Martin Amis et Al (Barry at Transit Lounge tells me that it is widely available on about 20 sites worldwide, so contact him at the link below if you are having trouble finding it).

Enquiries: Transit Lounge


  1. Sorry you have a crook back Lisa.

    This book sounds intriguing. I haven’t read many books set in Serbia/Bosnia. This sounds like the sort of book I’d like. BTW Why don’t you have plans to read Amis? His Time’s arrow is an astonishing and not easily forgettable novel about the holocaust. I don’t have plans to read more of his – though, who knows – but I highly recommend this one.


    • Hi Sue, I know, I know I should read Amis. He’s got 5 titles in 1001 Books for a start, (including Time’s Long Arrow) and he’s one of those authors that a well-read person should have read. But whatever it was that I borrowed from the library I sent it back unread because I really didn’t like it.
      So it’s a case of I’ll read Amis when I see one of his in the library, though now I have your recommendation – thanks! – I will keep a more alert eye out for Time’s Long Arrow.


  2. Wow, I do like the sound of this book.

    And I second Sue’s championing of Times Arrow — it’s very good. I read it 20 years ago but still remember it!

    And here’s hoping your back is on the mend… there is nothing worse than having a bad back.


  3. This souns up my street as well lisa ,I agree the first bit about creative writers taking over it is almost a given in america now that most newish writers have gone down that path such shame in a way publishers blinkered to what sells ,as for mr Amis I agree with other two and might say any pre times arrow book by him on whole good recent ones dire except the bio experience a good read too ,all the best stu


    • In an ironic bit of timing, Amy at Amy Reads is discussing this very question of diversity and the way authentic voices are sometimes pushed aside by the big publishing houses. It’s a small Australian publishing company that has published this one, much to its credit.
      Some of the comments (including yours Stu!) are also interesting: I tackled one who said she thought that reading outside her comfort zone i.e. not from her own culture was ‘brave’


  4. Love that title, ‘I Hate Martin Amis, et al.


    • Yes, it’s a very clever title, sure to get attention!


    • Yes, it’s brilliant. I immediately took notice. The book sounds too intense for me though. I am a sissy really.


      • Anyone brave enough to publish a novel is not a sissy!


  5. Wow, it’s not often that a review of a book grabs my attention like that. Shame it only seems to be an e-book though – I am more of an old-fashioned paper-lover…


    • Hello Andrew, Nice to meet you here:)
      I know what you mean about the feel of the book, but isn’t it wonderful that you can if you want to, buy this book digitally and start reading it immediately. no matter where you are in the world?


  6. What a remarkable book – and a great review too. i don’t get on with Martin Amis or Will Self, both of whom are much lauded by the literary establishment, so this appeals. I agree with you that buying it digitally and having it appear immediately is a wonderful thing – I am surprised how much I have taken to it after my scepticism of a couple of years ago


    • Yes, I find that digital availability is excellent when I want a book from overseas and I’ve left getting hold of it too late for book group discussion!


  7. […] I Hate Martin Amis et al. by Peter Barry (Transit Lounge), see ANZLitLovers (Lisa’s) review. […]


  8. […] I Hate Martin Amis Et Al by Peter Barry (Transit Lounge), (see my review); […]


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