The Rub of Time is Amis at his considered best, witty, erudite and unafraid. You can sit and be like Martin Amis all day, wondering how he could be so right about the Republican party in 2011, so prescient about Trump as early as May 2016. The hierarchy thing, that need to revere older writers, may be a little bit male for some, but male is the way that Amis rolls, which makes him one of the best people on the planet to write about the porn industry (a chivalrous piece, as it happens). He is sweetly sentimental when it comes to the British royal family (why?), funny about tennis, always brilliant about the body, scorching in his refusal of death, its sorrows and humiliations ... Amis is always begging for interruption and fending it off at the same time, busking his way to the best bit, fighting with shadows to snatch the prize ... Amis is fantastic company until he isn’t. The drop can sometimes be severe, though never so steep as with his friend Christopher Hitchens, another writer who makes the reader feel smart, energised, enlarged, or does until he says something stupid in a really clever way ... I will, like many of his readers, grow old in a different direction. Still, this collection is full of treasures. And, if you want a good scrap, if you want to feel like Martin Amis while fighting with Martin Amis (which is possibly how he also spends his day), a couple of these pieces will keep you going for a long time.
Some of the essays, reviews and reported articles collected in The Rub of Time take Amis’s household-name status as an occasion or a theme. But the deep subject of this book, what holds its disparate bits together and makes it worth your time even if you have only the vaguest idea of who its author is supposed to be, is not celebrity at all. It’s professionalism ... He is especially good at literary criticism. The best parts of The Rub of Time are devoted to his two favorite novelists, Vladimir Nabokov and Saul Bellow ... But there is some filler to get through ... Amis’s contempt toward the human material in front of him often feels easy, habitual, unearned, a matter of prejudice rather than experience ... Over time, Amis has learned to read the mainstream without a chart, and to steer clear of the dangerous shoals and ledges. He is a nimble navigator, the wind is gentle at his back and the boat, alas, rarely rocks.
The Rub of Time is as surprisingly great as his other collections of criticism and magazine work ... As one would expect, the pieces on literature are the most successful. Amis has one of the greatest ears for contemporary letters ... Though Amis is a brilliant critic, capable of le mot juste—and often whole paragraphs justes—the political pieces are hit or miss. A few originated as commentary for British papers and carry a whiff of dated blog posts ... When Amis writes, 'We are all of us held together by words; and when words go, nothing much remains,' something of that belief rubs off on the reader. This new collection is not only praiseworthy, then. It should be celebrated as an old-fashioned panacea for our anti-intellectual times.