Sunday, August 29, 2010

London Fields by Martin Amis (1989)

The black cab will move away, unrecallably and for ever, its driver paid, and handsomely tipped, by the murderee. She will walk down the dead-end street. The heavy car will be waiting; its lights will come on as it lumbers towards her. It will stop, and idle, as the passenger door swings open.

His face will be barred in darkness, but she will see shattered glass on the passenger seat and the car-tool ready on his lap.

'Get in.'

She will lean forward, '
You,' she will say, in intense recognition: 'Always you.'


And in she'll climb...

The novel London Fields by Martin Amis (1989) takes place in a crowded and distracted London in 1999. And as the world hurls towards the uncertainty and potential Crisis of the Millennium, our four characters hurl toward their inevitable conclusion. We have Nicola Six, the sexually controlling femme fatale and murderee who has foretold her own death; Keith Talent, the professional cheat, verile womanizer, olympic drinker, and aspiring darts champion; Guy Clinch, the wealthy but personally and sexually dissatisfied new father whose son, Marmaduke, is a truly amazing physical terror; and our narrator, Samson Young, a failed non-fiction writer, dying of a terminal disease, who comes across the triangle of Nicola, Keith and Guy and decides to document their drama and turn it into a best-selling novel.

The book abounds with black humor (the attacks of Marmaduke, the epic and excruciating hard-on of Guy, the charmed squalor of Keith) and post-modern meta-narratives on the act of writing (every chapter "written" by Samson is followed by a short section in Samson's voice commenting on his process of gathering information and putting it into his novel). Dark comedy and post-modernism can so easily fall into the trap of a winky and substanceless exchange between the reader and writer, but Amis counters that with his enticingly rich descriptions and gradual escalation of the panic and loss of control of his narrator and cast of characters.

This is a wonderfully strong and engrossing novel that is both fun to read, literary, and impossible to stop thinking about when you are done.

Speaking of enticingly rich descriptions, here are a couple of my favorites:

Keith's crowning glory, his hair, was thick and full-bodied; but it always had the look of being recently washed, imperfectly rinsed, and then, still slick with cheap shampoo, slow-dried in a huddled pub -- the thermals of the booze, the sallowing fagsmoke.

Here was a blonde to whom everything that could happen to a blonde had gone ahead and happened.

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