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[525] London Fields – Martin Amis

” You know how it is when two souls meet in a burst of ecstatic volubility, with hearts tickling to hear and to tell, to know everything, to reveal everything, the shared reverence for the other’s otherness, a feeling of solitude radiantly snapped by full contact—all that? “

London Fields is probably the most over-written novel I have read for a long time, only second to Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, both touch upon the subject matter of apocalyptic annihilation and millennial anxiety. It’s a complex and daring work of literature, which deals with the continuous, determined efforts of a young woman, Nicola Six, who’s been a “male fantasy figure and does all the gimmicks men read up in magazines,” to liase with her murderer at a certain time and place known to her in advance—all that is left is the unknown identity of her killer.

What saddened and incensed her was the abdication of power, so craven, the surrender so close to home. And power was what she was in for. Nicola had lived deliciously, but she was promiscuous on principle, as a sign of emancipation, of spiritual freedom, freedom from men. She was, she believed, without appetite, and prided herself on her passionless brilliance in bed. But then the subtle rearrangement, and the abject whisper… and it poisoned everything, somehow.

The novel opens with Samson Young, a writer who has experienced writer’s block for over twenty years and is now afflicted by cancer, explaining how grateful he is to have found his story—already formed, already happened, just waiting to be written down. He stumbles upon Nicola’s diaries which detail her plot of her own homicide. Intrigued by this story, he forms a strange relationship with her to get updates on her annihilation plan. Her two possible murderers are Keith Talent, a small-time criminal and aspiring professional dart player and Guy Clench, a rich upper-class banker who is bored with life. Nicola humiliates both men, trying to provoke them to murder, yet at the same time works them up a frenzy of lust.

People? People are chaotic quiddities living in one cave each. They pass the hours in amorous grudge and playback and thought experiment. At the campfire they put the usual fraction on exhibit, and listen to their own silent gibber about how they’re feeling and how they’re going down. We’ve been there.

I have the sense that Amis may have been too clever in outwitting himself. It opens brilliantly with this pre-announced whodunnit without a motive. But from there, despite his lyricality and ingenious monologue, the entire book is a con-trick that leads you to expect one thing, and offers you another. At times the authorial voice is too intrusive, screaming pretentiousness and undermining the characters. I admire his wit, the prodigious span of diction, but he needs more substance and less of this intrusive style. I’m disappointed at this tome of a book that is entirely an elaborate tease. It’s just another meditation for the way the world ends wrapped in a quasi-love story that turns out to be an unresolved mess.

470 pp. Vintage International. Paperback. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]


6 Responses

  1. I just finished this and I thought it was one of the best books I’ve read this year (and I’ve read some great ones). Still can’t put my finger on what it was all supposed to be about, but at least I’m trying to figure it out and enjoyed the journey. Too bad you didn’t.

  2. I don’t really understand the accusation of ‘over-writing’. The phrase sounds as if it should mean something specific, but what it really means is that a writer has spent a great deal of time and care over his prose, is not prepared to settle for banalities and clichés, and believes that there can be an extra ‘poetry’ in well crafted sentence that is absent from a plain, unsaturated piece of prose-lite. For the lover of language an unambiguous journey from word to meaning is dull. We should rejoice in those that take on the task of assembling words in such a way as to make them shimmer and sparkle.

    Martin Amis is not about ‘plot’, and if you crave more ‘substance’ and less ‘intrusive style’ then Amis is not the writer for you. But then neither I suspect would Nabokov or A.M. Homes be.

    London Fields was my first Amis, and I was knocked out by its richness, complexity and the layers of meaning fitted so beautifully together in sentences that can be read with pleasure again and again. How many writers can do that? Not very many.

    His recent works have been poor, but I’d urge you to put aside any fixation on plot and just enjoy Amis’s writing of the 80s and 90s – those books published more or less directly before and after London Fields – much of which is fabulous.

    • Could not have put it any better.Forget the plot,here’s a writer to be admired just for the sheer richness of language.

      Put LONDON FIELDS aside for now.Enjoy THE PREGNANT WIDOW,a book every bit as rich as the former.The literary corollaries are dazzling that should have worn the Booker!
      Enough said.

  3. […] [525] London Fields – Martin Amis […]

  4. […] I usually finish what I started. The one book that came so close to not being finished this year is London Fields by Martin Amis. I lost interest about two-thirds of the way and I just skimmed through it so that I […]

  5. To hell with all critics.Martin Amis is the best writer going….read LONDON FIELDS,THE PREGNANT WIDOW and THE INFORMATION just for the intensity and lushness of language.A man who dares to speak what no one dares to speak about.
    He should have won the Booker long time ago.Too bad TIME’S ARROW(He was nominated for it) didn’t.

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