Archive for March, 2010


Posted in Books with tags , , on March 14, 2010 by richardblandford

A number of years ago, Martin Amis had some dental work done.  For reasons I’ve never got my head around, this seemed to turn a sizable chunk of the literary establishment against him.  Consequently, being a man incapable of independent thought, I have followed this party line faithfully and never read any of his books, instead walking straight past them in the library, murmuring, ‘fucking straight-toother’ under my breath as I went.

All that changed this month, when I decided to experiment with free will for the first time in my life, and read something by him.  Naturally, I let others choose which one I read, and a straw poll revealed Money, his novel from 1984 to be the firm favourite.

Upon finishing it, I am convinced of three things:

1) Kirk Douglas demanded that Martin Amis write a  scene for him in which he could display his genitals in Saturn 3, a film for which Amis wrote the (rubbish) screenplay.

2) Turgid U2 stadium anthem ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’ is inspired by a line from this book (At one point, the protagonist John Self heads for a part of New York ‘where the streets have names’).  All the dates fit.  If it’s a coincidence, I’ll eat my licorice hat.

3) Grossly unfair though it undoubtedly is, it’s virtually impossible to discuss Amis jr. at this stage of his career without mentioning his father, Kingsley (unless you haven’t read any of his father’s books, in which case it’s very easy).

The reason for this is that, at least at first, Money reads like a pumped-up hyper version of precisely the sort of book his father (and J.P. Donleavey, and the young Iris Murdoch) used to write in the 50s.  It’s essentially picaresque, with the overweight and over-sexed John Self meandering his way around a very loose plot as he tries to get a Hollywood film made, all the while experiencing and observing the seemingly magical properties of money.

As the book goes on, however, it reveals itself to be a rather different beast, with ‘Martin Amis’ turning up as a character, and takes a distinctly Post-Modern turn which at first feels like a distraction, but by the end is probably the most interesting thing about it.

Did I like it?  Sometimes yes, sometimes no.  I wasn’t particularly taken with the narrative style, which blends the colloquial English that a real life John Self would use with a bloated vocabulary that he most certainly would not. Also, for quite long periods the book and its main character seemed to be trapped in a cycle of narrative tics (have unlikely sex, observe effect of money, make fun of Hollywood types, have unlikely sex again) that really wore me down, but every so often it would spark into life with some astute observations and the odd good joke.

The problem, I think, is that unlike his father, Amis isn’t a natural wit, or at least doesn’t allow himself to be on paper that often.  Unfortunately, to pull off a meandering picaresque story, you’ve got to charm the reader in order for them to follow your deviations.  But maybe it’s just me, although, well, obviously not just me. In the aftermath of Anna Ford’s slightly weird recent public attack on Amis, in which she accused him of using Christopher Hitchen’s head as a bong in front of her goddaughter or something, it was startling just how many people used it as an opportunity to state they found his work unreadable. Some people such as John Niven here, however, are very much charmed by Amis jr’s style in this book.  But then, different people are charmed by different things.  This is why the world isn’t one great big wife-swapping party.

Also, I found the ease with which Self obtains sex, despite his limitations in the various fields through which men generally manage to obtain it, a stretch of credulity too far.  Although I usually tend to give this sort of novel the benefit of the doubt, and believe that it depicts a sexist world rather than being sexist in and of itself, when you have to revise your understanding of everything you know about the opposite sex in order to accommodate the internal workings of the story, alarm bells tend to ring.  As a very similar argument could perhaps be made of my own novel Hound Dog, however, I shall conveniently stop pursuing this point any further.

In fact, I found that there were numerous similarities to my novel Hound Dog, both in terms of the main character and certain avenues that the plot goes down, which I will not reveal here in case I simultaneously ruin both novels for people who haven’t read them (though really, what are you doing, not having read Hound Dog?  Go and read it this instant!).  Amis and myself must have tapped into the same mythical archetype, although I can’t find any mention of the ‘fat, wanking hero figure’ in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces.  Perhaps he’s the thousandth and first face.

Anyway, Money wasn’t really my kind of book, probably because I’ve already written one a bit like it, but I sort of got something out of it, I guess. Probably. Anyway, there’s a version on telly soon so I’ll watch that I reckon.


Nick Cave

Posted in Life, music with tags , , on March 7, 2010 by richardblandford

I saw Nick Cave once, in the old Borders bookshop in Brighton’s Churchill Square. I didn’t realise it was him at first. He was standing with his back up against some books in an alcove. Then, when a rather stiff-looking man walked past, he leapt out.

‘Look at my red right hand!’ he shouted. ‘Look at my red right hand!’

The man jumped, and let out an undignified yelp, before walking away as fast as he could, shaking his head and muttering.

Nick crept back into the alcove. I could see it was him now, his features familiar despite the startling hair-loss of recent years and the carefully-shaped beard that had yet to be revealed to the public. I could also see that he did indeed have a red right hand. At least, it had been haphazardly coloured-in red, in what seemed like felt tip.

A young, pretty woman walked past the alcove. Nick jumped out again.

‘Look at my red right hand!’ he said, waving it in the woman’s face. ‘The devil made it red, you know!’

The woman screamed as Nick flung himself backwards against the books, knocking several from the shelf as he pretended to be strangled by the red hand, and fighting it off with the other. He then fell to the floor, kicking more books as he went.

A store security man soon stood over him, trying to get his attention.

Nick just looked up as he writhed about, meanwhile kicking the security man in the back of the knee.

‘Stop it!’ He gasped. ‘Stop the hand. It’s killing me!’

The security man looked about, as if embarrassed.

‘Not again,’ I’m sure I heard him mutter.

Then he reached down, effortlessly grabbed the hand from around Nick’s neck by the wrist, and banged it several times against a hardback book of astronomy with little force.

He dropped the hand, and it fell to the floor.

‘Think it’s time for you to leave now, sir,’ said the security man.

‘Ow,’ said Nick, rubbing the limp red right hand. ‘That hurt.’

‘Come on, now,’ said the security man, lifting him up from the floor.

‘That really hurt,’ said Nick, as he was led away.