London Fields

Posted by on Saturday, November 27th, 2010

London Fields by Martin Amis.

I read this book so slowly not because I didn’t love it, but because this time of year is just plain too busy for me.  I spent a lot of stolen moments reading just a few pages before returning to some pressing task or other.  It’s a mystery, sort of.  And it’s comedic, sort of.  It’s brilliant, and dense, and deserves a slow, contemplative reading. I fell hard right at the beginning.  Amis’s language is amazing.  He’s witty and smart, but it doesn’t feel like a gag. None of the characters are particularly likeable, which could be a problem for many readers, but which I actually enjoyed.

The book, written in 1989, is set in London at the turn of the millenium.  Amis envisioned a future of excess, environmental decay, international disputes, and general unpleasantness.  The narrator, Samson Young, is an American writer who travels to London to convalesce and to attempt to overcome his writer’s block.  He swaps apartments with a British author of dubious talent but great fame, of whom Sam is both jealous and dismissive.  I ruin nothing about the story by telling you  that the book has a foregone conclusion, which is on the dust-jacket and is revealed early in the story.  The female lead character, Nicola Six, expects to be murdered on her 35th birthday, so she sets out to find and encourage her murderer.  She shares her story with Sam, who then takes it up as the subject of a novel.  Guy Clinch, a banker, looks like the dupe in the murder plot, while Keith Talent, an uneducated misogynist cheat, looks like the murderer.  As the book progresses we realize how dishonest and flawed all of the main characters are, and wonder who will actually do Nicola in.

That description doesn’t do the book justice, of course.  It’s funny.  No, really, it’s a seriously funny book.  But it’s also poignant.  For all of his sarcasm and wit, Amis has a sort of open-hearted love even for the worst of us.  It’s such a writerly novel–it’s less about plot than it is about the act of writing, and how writing makes liars of us all.  I plan to read it again, and soon.

And now, on to Chris Offutt’s The Good Brother.

Filed in 12 books in 12 months,Books | 3 responses so far

3 Responses to “London Fields”

  1. kon 05 Dec 2010 at 1:18 pm 1

    I maybe some day in the other existence where I have time will re-read it. I read it when after seeing a PBS special on the book and the author, but it really only talked about the characters, and that’s what I had in my head when I read it. Also, I was much younger. But it was awesome, and parts are still stuck in my head.

  2. Matthew (@thebibliofreak)on 16 Jul 2011 at 3:49 am 2

    I’ve just finished reading it and really enjoyed it ( This thing I like most about Amis is picking his novels apart after I’ve finished reading them – they are so complex.

  3. […] Lanea read London Fields – a dense and brilliant book set at the turn of the millennium, in “a future of excess, environmental decay, international disputes, and general unpleasantness.”  The story involves a woman who knows she will be murdered, an author who takes up her story, and a couple of murder suspects – not particularly likable characters, but Amis makes the reader enjoy them anyway. [review] […]

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