I was just in a rush to finish the book, and not just because of time pressure: it was because I was enjoying it so much. Amis’s prose, as you should know by now, has a rush and a power that sweeps you along like surf: you’re never going to get a sentence that isn’t pulling its weight. On a rereading, though, I found myself asking: why’s he doing this? Isn’t this undermining the veracity of his account? And why here, and not there? Is this true? Did this happen ... if you liked Experience, then you’ll love Inside Story. It has similar rhythms, equally good jokes, equal if not greater poignancies (the scene at Hitchens’s deathbed affected me more than anything else I can remember reading); and, of course, great footnotes ... But the heart of this book is in his relationship with Christopher Hitchens, and you can tell how much love there was between them ... Their dialogue, to use a reviewer’s miserable cliché, sparkles; it has the feel of truth, too, and one of the reasons Amis calls this a novel is that it frees him from recalling their chats—or indeed his chats with anyone else—verbatim. It gives him room ... Novel, shmovel. It works.
The book is a 'novelized autobiography'—an unstable and charismatic compound of fact and fiction. Amis revisits stories he told in his memoir Experience. Some other passages have been grafted from his essays and speeches. He reproduces a New Yorker article in its entirety ... Amis feels a bit like a beloved vice these days. You read him through your fingers. As a critic, he remains strong and original. His memoir is a model of the form ... Inside Story is rife with dreams, sex fantasies and maundering meditations on Jewishness, a longstanding obsession. The book feels built to baffle. It is an orgy of inconsistencies and inexplicable technical choices ... Most maddening of all, Inside Story also includes some of Amis’s best writing to date.
Inside Story is the most confusing of the 14 novels, two short-story collections, one memoir, and seven works of journalism and history that Amis, 71, has written ... It comprises, briefly: magnificent and affecting accounts of the decline of Saul Bellow and the death of Christopher Hitchen ... a pointless subnovel featuring another (Jesus Christ) of Amis’s Eros-Thanatos women ... a slightly half-assed but nonetheless very interesting how-to-write manual; lashings of his bamboozlingly brilliant critical commentary; digressions and footnotes galore. Really it’s a 500-page miscellany of Amis-ness ... The great lines come flying at you ... And there are good jokes, too ... It’s full of ellipses: Dangling, tantalizing, confiding, pregnant beyond utterance … polyvalent .. .There are sweating pockets of male shame and grease spots on the conscience ... How do I measure up to all this? Not the writing, but the level of perception, the level of interrogation, the level of work, the level of living. And then the mood passed, and as a reader I felt—like an absolution—the gaze of the author, and his understanding. That’s greatness. That lasts.