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.


2 Responses to “Money”

  1. I’m stunned. When I read Hound Dog, I identified Amis as a major influence, along with Paul Abbott. Apparently not. That’s my career as a literary critic stone dead.

    It wasn’t the dental work as such that pissed people off. It was the fact that he dumped his agent (who was married to his best friend, who quickly stopped being his best friend) in favour of a dodgy geezer who secured him a bigger advance, which he then spent on the new teeth. And, possibly coincidentally, that nothing he wrote following the agent/teeth thing was quite as good as Money or London Fields.

    You got the Anna Ford thing dead right though. If you lift up Hitchens’s hair at the back, you can still see the hole.

  2. No, never read him. I had seen Saturn 3 though. Never watched Shameless either. Although I have seen the adverts.

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