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Martin Amis

The Zone of Interest 

Jewish International Film Festival / A24
22 November 2023

In Martin Amis’s novel The Zone of Interest (2014), Auschwitz Commandant Paul Doll asserts that to meet the objectives of the Reich it is necessary to ‘shut down a certain zone of the mind. I must accept that we have mobilised the weapons, the wonder weapons, of darkness.’ Doll is not a man seeking to absolve himself. Rather, he attempts to explain his dilemma, lamenting not so much the moral nightmare into which he has been thrust, but the bureaucratic one: how to balance the Reich’s need to exploit the prisoners for their labour with the desire to eradicate them as quickly and efficiently possible? ‘The Christian system of right and wrong, of good and bad,’ he muses, ‘is 1 we categorically reject … There are only positive outcomes and negative outcomes.’

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During a 1995 television interview on Charlie Rose soon after the publication of Martin Amis’s The Information, another long novel, there is a moment when, as Rose begins to read the opening passage, Amis’s mouth visibly slackens. Silently he intones the first lines. His hand (often tentatively raised toward his chin in interviews) searches out his forehead. There is a spectral waver in his gaze, a registering (as if accommodating, or incorporating, new information). He looks adrift, unmoored. Free-floating. One has the sense of a man assimilating his own self as it is spoken back to him. For a moment, he seems precarious.

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I once had a vague fantasy that Martin Amis and I should get married. He was cool and handsome, and we had so much in common. We were about the same age; we had both read English at Oxford. My father worked as a cartoonist at the New Statesman when Martin was literary editor. I was mad about books and writing; Martin, in his early twenties, was already a famous novelist. Perfect match.

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