HERE WE GO AGAIN: Amis has made a comeback! “Martin Amis’s funniest and most satisfying novel in years” (David Free); “[. . .] instead of being just clever, Amis has written a book with heart” (Penelope Debelle).
Alternatively Amis is in terminal decline: Lionel Asbo “reads like a pallid variation on ‘Money’” (Michiko Kakutani). “The verbal dazzle exhilaratingly evident in his best book, Money (1984), has by now dimmed into near nonexistence” (Peter Kemp).
Or Amis is praised for his original stylistic flourishes while being lambasted for his narrative content: “serving up blanched stereotypes on the silver platter of his prose” (Ron Charles).
So what are we to make of Amis’s latest (thirteenth) novel? I think back to the sheer originality of his first four novels — his precocious account of a young man’s last five hours before turning 20, The Rachel Papers (1973); his comically savage satire on the ageing hippy generation, Dead Babies (1975); his tautly constructed narrative about the rise of the yobs and fall of the privileged in England, Success (1978); and his innovative Martian narrative of a woman who is suffering from memory loss, Other People: A Mystery Story (1981). By 1980 the magnetic power of his unique style of writing even led one American novelist, Jacob Epstein, to plagiarize The Rachel Papers in his first novel, Wild Oats.
With Money: A Suicide Note (1984) Amis went global, according to Will Self, perhaps Amis’s most clearly identifiable stylistic follower. Alternating chapters set in New York and London, the novel brilliantly and wittily exposes both what Amis called “the boutique squalor of Thatcher’s England” and a similar obsession of Reagan’s America with easy money, which led to the spectacular failure of Savings and Loans Associations in the 1980s. As the narrator and protagonist puts it, “they’ve got an actor, and we’ve got a chick.” Told by the ubiquitous John Self, a consumer who, Amis said, “is consumed by consumerism,” the novel shows London and New York as seen through the blinkered vision of a TV director of commercials brought up on a diet of television and pornography. Yet Amis induces some sympathy for this impoverished human being whose life consists of “fast food, sex shows, space games, slot machines, video nasties, nude mags, drink, pubs, fighting, television, handjobs.” Handjobs, according to Self, have the advantage of being cheap and readily available. Amis wittily follows this with Self’s unwitting comment: “In the end you’ve got to hand it to hand jobs. They’re deeply democratic.” Turning an adjective with negative connotations into a verb with complimentary connotations, Self ends by converting a shamefully secret act into a public political one (now I’m unconsciously echoing his alliteration). It is a brilliant example of how the earlier Amis manipulated language to serve his narrative purposes. In this novel Amis also comes his closest to employing postmodern narrative devices, by introducing a character called Martin Amis into the narrative whose explanations of postmodernism bore Self to death.
Amis is widely seen to be in his prime during the publication of his major trilogy of novels, Money, London Fields (1989) and The Information ...read more