Another week of insane uni essay, another Martin Amis novel to keep me amused. What is it about him? For all intents and purposes, I should hate the man. Some of his comments in recent times, especially regarding the September 11 attacks are not politically correct, to say the least. And yet, I always come crawling back for more. Well, when I say that, I mean that this is the third novel by him that I have read in less than a year. And for me, that’s pretty much regular.
In your traditional crime, there are always three participants: the murderer, the murderee, and the foil. Samson Young is an American writer who has a small problem – he can only write the truth. He has come to England in the hope that he will find a true story so outrageous, he can sell it as a novel, and finally make a name for himself. And he finds it. Three people Keith Talent (the murderer), Nicola Six (the murderee), and Guy Clinch (the foil). As these four people interact, their lives become inextricably linked, and not everyone will make it out alive.
This is an excellent meditation on story-telling. It is the insanely postmodern way (which, for the record, I love) in which Amis writes his story that makes this novel so well worth it. How are we to trust the written word? What makes us assume that those things which are written down are automatically better than something someone might tell us. Amis uses the written word here to show us the fallibility of both the media and the book industry, and how easy it is to deceive someone. Yes, he plays games with your mind the entire time, and you are never quite sure what is real and what is not (ironic, considering that Sam is an author that proclaims that he can only write the truth), helped by the alternating chapters of the book, and what Sam is actually doing.
There is a definite shift in the last third of the book – the final act. While the first two teeter on comedy (though, admittedly very dark comedy), the final act becomes this kind of essay on entropy, on what would happen at the end of the world. This novel is set in 1999, and you really feel that the world is coming to an end – London is a dirty place, and almost none of the characters have redeeming features. Even the small children are terrors – it is clear that the future will be a tough challenge. I really like this kind of stuff, and the impending sense of doom really works for me, as a stylistic choice in this kind of story.
A brief note on some of the criticisms of this book. Amis has been called a misogynist for his portrayal of Nicola Six in this book, a seemingly willing murderee. While she certainly knows and resigns herself to the fact that she is going to be murdered, it is she who holds the power the entire novel. She is the one who is constantly manipulating the other three men, and they are at her mercy at every stage. If anything, the women in this novel are far more assertive and powerful than the men, who have become sick and tired at the end of time.
In the end, London Fields is a highly rewarding novel. It perhaps takes a while to warm up to its full potential, but once it gets there, it really hits some excellent shots. Each of these characters are so terrible, you want to know exactly what they are going to do next. And the constant guessing of what is going to happen at the end will keep you on your seat until the very end.