bonnie’s #CBR5 Review #73: London Fields by Martin Amis

Martin Amis has been accused of being sexist in his life and literature. I can’t speak to how he views women in real life (I know he’s married), but I think London Fields provides an interesting challenge to the idea of how men view women in novels, and how their objectification makes them more and less attainable on print.

The narrator is Samson Young, an American author living in London at author Mark Asprey’s (a stand-in for Amis, as featured in other of Amis’s novels) flat, constructing a novel about the soon-to-happen murder of Nicola Six. He assigns Keith Talent, a petty criminal and local darts champ as the murderer, Guy Clinch, a rich and bored banker, as the foil, and himself as the novelist who interviews Nicola to be updated on the plot. At first, the novel is a darkly funny jaunt into the underworld of London, but it grows more twisted and complex as the anticipated event draws closer. The ending is unexpected and clever, drawing all the pieces of the novel together.

Nicola Six is one of the most interesting anti-heroines I’ve read yet. She has her vanity, but it doesn’t define her. She uses men, but even they cannot control her. She is frustrating, enticing, and utterly interesting, because she cannot be understood. London Fields is considered Amis’s masterpiece, and after reading it, I am inclined to agree. It’s at turns funny, dark, clever, and well-plotted, cutting through swathes of life and ennui in the late 1980s, critiquing the highly materialistic world we have constructed for ourselves. It took me a long time to read, but it was well-worth it. If you want to read Martin Amis, this would be an even better place to start than Money.

You can also read this review on my personal blog, The Universe Disturbed.

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bonnie’s #CBR5 Review #63: Money by Martin Amis

I read this last year, before I became a CBR participant, but I need to re-read it for my dissertation research–I won’t recap the others I’ve read earlier this calendar year. On first reading, I didn’t know what to do with Martin Amis, but my experience has taught me just to take it in, one sentence at a time. :)

John Self is a disgusting guy. No two ways around it. He describes himself as a pudgy man of insatiable appetites towards food, alcohol, women, and porn. He’s also brokering a movie deal in the United States, while wondering if his beautiful girlfriend Selina is cheating on him. The novel is a blur of experiences, senses, first-person narrative that breaks down our perceptions of plot and character. And let’s not forget the cameo by “Martin Amis,” a young novelist who attempts to help Self with his screenplay.

If you’re a casual reader, you might Money to be kind of a headache. Hell, if you’re an academic, Money is no joke. It took a lot of slow reading for me to really dig into it. I can easily understand why this is considered one of Amis’s masterpieces, but I would argue it’s not as approachable as some of his other works (like Time’s Arrow, for instance).

You can also read this review on my personal blog, The Universe Disturbed.

loulamac’s #CBRV review #49: Lionel Asbo by Martin Amis

pitbull

It’s not fashionable to like Amis’ later novels. The received wisdom is that since his glory days of Money, London Fields or The Information (my personal favourite), he has steadily become more eccentric and less ‘in touch’ with the world he lives in, and London in particular. While this may be true in some ways, how he puts words together is still a delight (I even enjoyed The House of Meetings). While Lionel Asbo isn’t as much of a return to form as The Pregnant Widow seemed to be, it’s still well worth a read.

Lionel Asbo is a serial jail-bird pit bull-owning thug. He lives with his orphaned nephew Des Pepperdine (the nearest you’ll get to a sympathetic character in an Amis novel) in the fictional London neighbourhood of Diston, where life expectancy is fifty-four and on average single mums have six kids. Lionel (or Loyonoo as he pronounces it) has had so many ASBOs served against him (his first when he was still a toddler) that he has changed his name by deed poll. While Lionel is serving yet another prison sentence he wins £139,999,999.50 on the lottery, and is thrust into a world of ‘lotto lout’ limelight, getting barred from five star hotels and dating Jordan-esque glamour models. Des, meanwhile, is studying at university and living in Lionel’s old high-rise flat with his pregnant girlfriend. The bulk of the novel charts the way in which each of the cast of disreputable and broken people react to Lionel’s new-found wealth.

It is true that the characters and plot are outlandish. It seems Amis is trying, in his inimitable heavy-handed way, to create a dystopian fairy tale for our fame- and wealth-obsessed times. In Asbo though, he has created as threatening and compelling character as he has managed to do for years. There is a great sense of dread and pressure that pervades the book. The prose is every bit as complicated, winning and prone to linguistic acrobatics as you would expect it to be, but it’s the simple descriptions that do it for me. Early in the novel, Asbo is debating whether his latest offence should be classed ABH or GBH:

‘Criminal law, after all, was the third element in his vocational trinity, the other two being villainy and prison.’

Asbo’s Alma Mater Stallwort prison is described as ‘looking like a terrible school for very old men’; and the scene where Asbo treats his brothers to a swanky dinner, knowing that they all desperately need a hand-out and that he has no intention of giving them a bean, is as good as any Amis has written.

I did get annoyed on one point of detail. Lionel is named after the great light entertainer Lionel Blair, because his mum, with five sons already, had run out of Beatles to inspire the name of her sixth son. Mention is made of how she even named one of the five after the ‘forgotten’ Beatle Stuart Sutcliffe. If she’s such a huge fan, why didn’t she name Lionel after Pete Best, the drummer before Ringo? Don’t make such a point of making a character a loopy Beatles fan and then get that wrong. Annoying.

This book may be over the top, so much so that it’s an easy target for all the blinkered Amis-haters out there. If you’re one of them, then don’t bother reading it. If you’ve got an open mind though, and can go with the distorted and disfigured world presented, then you’ll enjoy it.