Jane Says

LONDON — She was the stunning, fair-haired stepmother who turned the young Martin Amis on to books — and who later left his father, Kingsley, when he refused to quit drinking. Her many lovers included writers like Arthur Koestler, Cecil...

Howard gives the men in her life the same evenhanded treatment throughout her memoir, revealing their faults but refusing to condemn them. "I don’t really see the point of that," she says. "It wouldn’t have made me any happier. It wouldn’t have changed them and wouldn’t have changed what already happened. You have to try and learn from your experiences."

Married at age 19 to the artist and conservationist Peter Scott, Howard soon left him and ran through several more lovers before she met Koestler at a cocktail party. He quickly proposed marriage, but she suggested living together first — a wise move. Their relationship ended after Koestler proved to be a perfectionist and a bully who locked Howard in a freezing drawing room to write while he worked in a warmer room upstairs. When she broke off a brief affair with her friend, the poet Day-Lewis, because she didn’t want to hurt his wife, Jill, he called her a whore. Howard’s two-week fling in Spain with the married writer and poet Laurie Lee was an exception in that it didn’t have a painful ending, and she describes it as one of the happiest times of her life.

"You have to remember that the other side of these people is that they were tremendously good company," she remembers. "That was my priority — being made to laugh and being with people who were better educated, better read than myself and interested in a great many things. There are much more honorable people who would actually bore you to death and never do anything bad. I sometimes think that if I’d married one of those, I would have been happier, but I don’t think I would have written books."

The nearest she got to marital bliss was with Amis, whom she met in 1962 at a literary festival. They married three years later — after she divorced her second husband, Jim Douglas-Henry, and Amis his wife, Hilly — and she took on the role of stepmother to Amis’ three children. One day, she recalls in "Slipstream," she saw Martin, then a hooky-playing teenage Mod, lounging around the house, "boredom seeping from every pore," and handed him a copy of "Pride and Prejudice." "That was when he started to read properly — a very good moment for me." Indeed, it is the younger Amis’ stepmother, not his father, who can claim credit for unleashing the literary beast in him. "We’re still friends, and I’m touched that he still regards me as family," says Howard.
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