“A very strange thing happens to you – a very good thing happens to you – in your early fifties. And I’m assuming that my case is typical, which is what novelists do; a poet can’t be typical about anything, but a novelist is an everyman (and an innocent and a literary being), and you assume that how you feel is how everyone feels.
And I’ll predict that in your fifties, something enormous will happen in your mind, and it’s like discovering another continent on the globe: and what happens is, you’re suddenly visited by the past.
And it’s there like a huge palace in your mind, and you can go visit all these different rooms and staircases and chambers. And it’s particularly the erotic, the amatory past – and if you have children, they’re somehow very strongly present in this palace of the past.
I say it to my sons – I don’t say it to my daughters – look, when you’re having an affair, make notes. Try to remember everything about it. Because this is what you’re going to need when you’re older. You’re going to need these rooms.
And they’re a huge resource as you continue to grow and age.”
From Martin Amis’s interview with Edmundo Paz Soldan at the British Council’s Hay Festival in Xalapa in Veracruz, Mexico.
Although I’m not to the same stage of life as Amis, I think that this is the image, the framework for understanding memory that most accords with my own experience. I like the conception of memory as a physical system with its own reified, mapable dimensions that you can mentally inhabit and explore.
From another recent Amis interview for the LA Review of Books:
Did having children have a big effect on your writing?
MA: Oh yes. For one thing, I had this new cast of characters… Children are very comic.
I was quite broody for a while before they came. I’d got completely fed up with the single life. I wanted a new relationship between me and the world, and having children does change that. They’re the best thing, children. I felt from a very young age that these were the things on offer in life, and I wanted to have the life that involves bearing children. A negative example was Philip Larkin — no children, no marriage, no divorce, no war. My father was the opposite; he did it all…
It’s very nice to still have a 13 year old. It’s rejuvenating just looking at her. I find them fascinating. They’ll be gone soon. The empty nest — people have nervous breakdowns. I’ll be sad when they leave home…
As you get older, you don’t take any comfort in your achievements. What matters is how it went with women and how it went with children. That’s what becomes important.