Money (1984) – Martin AMIS

And on goes the mission to make my way through Martin Amis’ back catalogue. I picked this up in a second hand bookstore, and had heard that, along with London Fields, was considered one of Amis’ best novels – written at the height of his popularity, and arguably, genius.

John Self is a famous director of ads, and has been finally commissioned to direct his first feature film. But unfortunately, nothing is going to plan. As his drug and alcohol addiction takes hold, so do does the ever rising inane requests of his producer and stars. As everything crashes down around him, he wonders if Good Money will ever see the light of day.

Grimy. There is no other word for it. Reading Money makes you feel unclean and a little put off. John Self is pretty much the grossest hero of any novel I’ve read. He is fat, he is an alcoholic, he takes drugs, and he treats women appalingly. He is so very, very unlikeable. But there doesn’t seem to be anyone else to like. His producer, a young upstart, is smarmy and, quite frankly, a bit of a shit. He is the epitome of the 80s, wanting to subscribe so quickly and so easily to the conspicuous consumprtion philosophy. Self has an idea of where he wants his movie to go – though he is not exactly a man brimming with ideas, he knows exactly what he wants on screen. And so the constant bickering and fighting of his three leads (who are definitely the funniest characters in the novel) means that his script, written by a woman Self treats terribly, goes through so many changes to accomodate these whims, it barely remains the same.

Amis himself manages to put himself into the novel, too, as a novelist with whom Self becomes quite close. It’s actually the most interesting, and real, relationship in the novel, and provides some interesting character developments that highlight to Self (or should, at least) that the life he is leading – a life that sees him miss days on end because of being in a drunken stupor. There is also a clued-up concierge that Self becomes quite close with, and he, too, tries to warm Self of his self-destructive nature. What is most interesting, though, is that Self seems completely oblivious to the life he is leading. He seems to have genuinely no idea that what he is doing might not be the best way to lives one’s life. And for that, we do pity him. As we pity the alcoholic who can’t stop, or the drug addict who needs just one more hit, we pity John Self. He is dirty, ugly, and gross, but he is infinitely pitiable.

This high-flying, typically 80s lifestyle, is contrasted with Self’s humble beginnings. His dad lives in a flat above a pub, and is going out with a woman who thinks that her starring in porn is some kind of higher art. It is clear that Self has managed to extradite himself from this dirty British pub, and make something for himself that he has wasted because he is not used to the wealth. Money is everything to these people, particularly since Self lent his father some money several years ago, and the debt is causing some friction between them, making for a somewhat fractious relationship.

I have to spoil the ending, I’m afraid, to talk about the rest of the novel, so here goes. It turns out that everyone – quite literally, everyone – involved with the film production, is out to get him. They have been forcing him to spend and spend and spend so that he goes broke. And so John Self is spat out at the end of this production line, broken and unwell. There are some hilarious attempts showing him trying to get out of America to return home (fantastic Amis high farce, there), and then, the final denoument. It turns out that Self is actually the son of the pub owner – the pub above which his dad lives. And so he realises something – he can never have all this money. He is not destined to be rich or famous – he should just give up trying now.

This is the best novel about the 1980s I’ve read. Not that, I think, I’ve read tha many. I, certainly, have this image of the 80s as a time of lots of blingy people showing off their material stuff to everyone who’ll look, and this novel deals with the inevitable downfall of this intrinsically flawed philosophy. But hey, what would I know? I was born in 1988…

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