Martin Amis on aging

Martin Amis was interviewed at a literary festival and had this to say on getting old

"You get ugly when you get old. It’s all perfectly simple. In fact I can tell you how it’s going to go. Everything seems fine until you’re about 40. Then something is definitely beginning to go wrong. And you look in the mirror with your old habit of thinking, “While I accept that everyone grows old and dies, it’s a funny thing, but I’m an exception to that rule.”

Then it becomes a full-time job trying to convince yourself that it’s true. And you can actually feel your youth depart. In your mid-forties when you look in the mirror this idea that you’re an exception evaporates.

Then, you think life is going to get thinner and thinner until it dwindles into nothing. But a very strange thing happens to you, a very good thing happens to you, in your early fifties, and I’m assuming – this is what novelists do, they assume their case is typical: a poet can’t be typical about anything, but a novelist is an everyman, and an innocent and literary being – but you assume that how you feel is how everyone feels, and it’s like discovering another continent on the globe.

What happens is you’re suddenly visited by the past, and it’s like a huge palace in your mind, and you can go and visit all these different rooms and staircases and chambers. It’s particularly the erotic, the amatory past. And if you have children they somehow are very present in this palace of the past.

I say to my sons (I don’t say it to my daughters), “When you’re having an affair, keep notes. Hold it in the fist of your soul. Try and remember everything about it, because this is what you’re going to need when you’re old. You’re going to need these rooms, with a girl in each one.”

Nabokov said the big difference between people is those who sleep well, and those who don’t. And Nabokov was of course a champion insomniac. He has a lovely line in a late novella which is, “Night is always a giant but this one was especially terrible.”

Zadie Smith says that people divide into the organised and the disorganised. And she’s disorganised. But my father, Kingsley Amis, said that a huge division is between those who have a good time with the opposite sex, and those who don’t. And you will know in your early fifties how that balance sheet works.

Just to go a little bit later, because I’m 62 now... Another feeling comes on you when you’re 60, which can be expressed by the thought, “This can’t turn out well.” And that’s the bit I’m at at the moment. And really that’s the arrival of fear. In my case not fear of death, but fear of getting there.

So to go back to your question, yes you do look back with wonder at your youth, and you know all youth is automatically beautiful in a way. It’s said that youth is wasted on the young, and that’s perhaps true because you don’t feel your beauty until its gone."

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