Read to discover

Giving Amis a miss

Martin Amis: 2

Yours Truly: 0

I tried reading Martin Amis’ novel, Money, for the second time, and for the second time I failed. I gave up almost near the end, though I did sneak a peek at how it ends.

Amis, for all his literary talent (and he is awfully good at words), can be very taxing. He is on a roll, pouring every idea, every image that strikes his fancy on to the page, considerably prolonging the narrative. Amis knows he is being self-indulgent but pleads helplessness. He writes:

I disclaim responsibility for many of my thoughts. They don’t come from me. They come from those squatters and hoboes who hang out in my head, these guys who stroll past me like naturalized, emanicipated rodents (passport and papers all in order), like gentrified rats, flapping a paw and saying ‘Hi, pal’ and I have to wait and not mind while they make coffee or hog the can — there’s nothing I can do about them.

— Martin Amis, Money

It’s hip and vivid and quirky, but it doesn’t take the story anywhere.

This book could have easily lost a hundred pages without hurting the narrative. But Amis, who was only 35 when this book was published in 1984, was apparently more interested in the storytelling than in the story itself, more keen to showcase his literary talent than his plotmaking.

I was impressed but finally lost patience and gave up. The book is like the period it’s set in — the yuppie 1980s. It’s one long orgy of sex, glitz, financial extravagance and bad behaviour that finally becomes a bore.

Amis is too clever for his own good. He introduces himself in the story as a supporting character. The hero-cum-narrator, John Self, gets Martin Amis the writer to write the screenplay for a film he is making. It’s a clever idea, and amusing at first, but the joke wears out in the end.

In Nick Hornby’s novel, How To Be Good, there’s a minor character, a book publisher’s salesman, who considers Amis a "smart-a***" That’s rude — Hornby letting one of his characters badmouth his rival, Amis. He is rude but right. Amis is one heck of a talent who is not necessarily one whale of a read.

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