“The Immortals” by Martin Amis
An integral part of the collection entitled “Einstein’s Monsters” (1987), “The Immortals” by Martin Amis is barely a seven-and-a-half-page short story filled with reminiscences, experiences and future predictions by an unnamed narrator. Claiming as ‘an immortal’, the narrator takes the readers on a historical ride in an imagined time machine when he narrates his experiences on the earth since the beginning of time.
Starting with Ice Age, he unravels the different periods in history — from the Middle Ages to Renaissance to the Modern Age — uttering a monologue of quirky observations and expert-like commentaries on political events, contemporary social landscape, people’s ignorance towards the environment, etc.
As a first-time reader of his works, what stands out to me in this short story is the unabashed, fearless and fierce voice of the narrator. Considering the piece to be a cross between fantasy and apocalyptic fiction, “The Immortals” speaks to me on multiple levels.
From reading how the apocalypse happened in 2045 to how the narrator had “. . . slept right through the blast, the conflagration, the whole death typhoon,” I try to see the actual person who hides behind the garb and the supposed greatness of being “an immortal.”
What I uncover is shocking and pleasant at the same time!
I decipher the yearnings of a lonely person who long for human relationships and repents the fact that he would be left alone in the aftermath of the nuclear war. He states:
“Soon the people will all be gone and I will be alone forever.”
As the short story reaches its climax, we hear the narrator revealing his ‘disturbing delusion.’ He explains the condition of his diseased mind in the following words:
“Sometimes I have this weird idea that I am just a second-rate New Zealand schoolmaster who never did anything or went anywhere and is now painfully and noisily dying of solar radiation along with everybody else.”
This is where the readers feel shaken. This is the point when I question the narrator’s reliability for the first time. From the beginning, I was so mesmerised by his authorial voice, his sarcastic comments and his know-it-all-attitude that I didn’t even think twice about his credibility in retelling the long-forgotten periods of history.
That’s the power of good storytelling. And that is what Martin Amis excels in — his voice, his words convince readers to suspend their disbelief and rely on an ‘immortal’ voice to know the secrets about the time gone by.
Suffering from delusion, the narrator’s mind becomes a subject of sympathy to me. The voice that had been so strong throughout the story describing events and criticising people suddenly loses its grip and becomes the feeble voice of a lonely New Zealand school teacher awaiting his painful death in the war of the chemicals.
But wait! The voice bounces back pretty soon only to proclaim:
“I . . . I am the immortal.”