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Martin Amis and Isabel Fonseca

Amis on Fonseca

“I rely tremendously on her beauty. I rely on it for joie de vivre; and it’s proof of her equilibrium as well. Your happiness determines your demeanor in the world.

We’re not terribly social. My idea of a night out is a night in. Just us. Reading a bit—being in the same room. We have a small circle of regular friends; they come to us, we go to them. We’ll sometimes say yes to a fancy party and then always say as we’re leaving, “Why did we say yes?”

I like being with her. I admire her very much. I like watching her, looking at her, I love her character. I like the way she treats her computer like shit, whereas I treat mine like it’s made of gold. You know when your computer heats up and makes an awful noise? I switch it off immediately. The other day her computer was sounding like some air-conditioning unit that was on full blast and I said, ‘What’s happening with your computer?’ and she said, ‘I don’t know’ while going on working. She’s competent with all the electronics in a way that I’m not. It amuses me. She’s more can-do than me.

I’ll do anything for the quiet life. I hate rows, hate conflict. Isabel has a healthy appetite for it. And she feels sort of fine afterwards. Whereas I feel that something has come between me and my concentration. It’s not frequent. It’s a shock because it’s rare. The subtext of it is that she does much more than I do of the stuff around the house. Which is true. I don’t mean children stuff, although it’s true of that. I mean administration.

When she said, ‘Shall we go and live in Uruguay for three years?’—it was never quite as clear-cut as that, but I said, ‘I don’t even want to be consulted about that.'”

Martin Amis and Isabel Fonseca

Fonseca on Amis

“He is the more passive one. When we were moving to Uruguay, I don’t think he realized we were going until we got on the plane. But I have a pretty good idea of what makes him happy so it helps when I’m making decisions. He has simple needs and likes having separate space.

What he has is fabulous concentration. He has this wonderful ability to block everything out for hours at a time. And months at a time. His sense of center is very much his work. I allow myself to be distracted more.

We’re not very social; people think we must be, but we’re not. When we’re home together, we’re reading. We have a lot of historical interests in common, like the Holocaust. It’s an unendingly fascinating subject for us.

I have always been fatalistic about the prospect of marital happiness. My parents divorced, as did Martin’s. I never expected it to be this good. I was surprised, too, because there were so many sunderings along the way, indeed right from the start. Martin was married to another. My brother was already ill, hopelessly so, when we got together in summer of ’93, and he died of AIDS a year later. Then Martin’s father died, in ’95, and mine in ’97, and then his little sister Sally three years later. What are the chances, we could be forgiven for thinking, of someone staying by your side? It still seems like an incredible piece of luck.

Martin is a tender person. I never considered that I needed anybody and I was sort of surprised that I needed it and that he could supply it. I’m a busybody, flapping around doing things; he’s the undercurrent, the rock.

We’re in sync. He’s much more open than he used to be. He’s not a great talker about his feelings—in that sense he’s a truly British type of person. But he’s warm. Writers in general are not great sharers. I learn about him from his work. The children always have that. He’s an older father: He’s 61 and Clio is 11, but it’s all there.

Sometimes I can joke about his smoking, but actually I dread it. It’s not that I don’t get it—I smoked for 18 years. But the thing about nagging is, you’re not giving the person any new information. And we all know that nobody does anything that they don’t want to do.

Martin is not very streetwise. He’s very interested in poetry and prose, and that’s about it. He’s one of the few people I know who can recite pages and pages of prose by heart. He’s got such a good memory. That, I envy. I think from his books people think he’s a lot cooler than he is. People confuse him with his characters.

In terms of importance, Martin is there for the kids. He can be interrupted. He’s not very strict. He’s got three other children and they’re needing him too. He’s close with every one of his kids. Having young children, I couldn’t delegate, I didn’t want to. It was the kind of mother I turned out to be. I liked it. But I never want to stand next to a swing again.

Martin is not a hard person to be married to. Very calm, even tempered. I think he’s a mystery. Maybe that’s good, though.”


Novelists Martin Amis and Isabel Fonseca on the pleasures of reading, writing and living together, from the Wall Street Journal profile “On the Same Page”. Check out Amis’s memoir about family: Experience: A Memoir.