- Amis, Martin — London Fields (471 pages)
- Page count
Martin Amis' name keeps popping up in discussion about the best or most important contemporary authors, but I had not read any of his work. I'd read and enjoyed one of his father Kingsley's novels as an undergraduate, but I suspected his son was a different breed entirely. And that a breed that didn't seem, from various descriptions, one that I would enjoy, but nonetheless I decided it was high time I found out what all the fuss is about and kicked off the year's reading with London Fields.
My first impression upon finishing London Fields is that one doesn't read Martin Amis for the plot but for the wild ride. Really, the plot doesn't leave much for one to discover when the first few pages announce that there's a murder at the end of the novel and the character Nicola Six is the murderee. The fun is in the energy and brazenness of the writing and the characters and situations it describes.
Amis introduces us to Keith Talent, one of the most outrageous literary characters I've encountered. He's a professional cheat and an aspiring darter who, during the course of the novel, ascends to the upper echelons of the darts world. He spends scads of time in his favourite watering hole, the Black Cross, where his life intersects with the three other principal characters, and consorting with the various women in his life, from his wife to the drugs-and-drink-wasted blonde he continuously forswears to the underage girl being prostituted by her mother and everything in between.
Also frequenting the Black Cross is Guy Clinch, the rich sap whose life is oppressed by a domineering wife and a tyrannical toddler and for whom Keith, Nicola, and the Black Cross represent freedom. And there's the Samson Young, the struggling American writer through whose eyes and pen we are told the story of Keith and Guy and Nicola, who offers continuous commentary about the events being told, who is the classic unreliable narrator.
Nicola Six, the murderee, is the focal point of the story. She is more caricature than character, a shell of a woman meant to represent each character's feminine ideal, luring them in so that one of them will murder her on the appointed and foretold date. To one character she is all innocence and sweetness, to another she is purience personified with her scatological references and taunting homemade videos, and to another she is accomplice and confidante. To all, she exudes allure and sex-appeal (the closeness of Six and Sex surely not coincidental) in varying degrees.
Throw these volatile characters into a near-future world where the spectre of impending ecological and nuclear apocalypse hangs over all and it's a recipe for lurid fun of the rubbernecking variety as we watch their respective worlds implode as a result of reacting with each other.