So I have to admit, I know little about Martin Amis. I know he is the son of British writer Kingsley Amis, although I have to admit I know even less about Kingsley Amis than I do about Martin Amis. I know that Amis has a strong coterie of fans. I know he is reputed to have had many sexual escapades. I know he was a buddy of Christopher Hitchens. I know that he may or may not be going to spend more time in New York than in England. That’s about it.
I also know that I have read two of his books. About two years ago, I read Night Train, and had the following thoughts, as I previously posted:
“Lastly, I read Martin Amis’s short novel, “Night Train”, a tale told in the first person by a female detective whose boss’ daughter, young, successful, beautiful and presumably extremely happy is found dead, shot through the mouth, in her apartment one day, a presumed suicide. I enjoyed the thought process as the detective follows the clues surrounding the death, and really had only one problem with the book. I am not sure that Amis made a good choice in making his detective protagonist female. Because he couldn’t pull it off. I kept thinking she was a he, correcting myself, and then immediately thinking she was a he again. And why did he name her Mike and name her boyfriend Tobe? Maybe there is an entire level that passed me by.”
That’s it. That’s all I said, and I don’t remember much more, although it may not have turned out to have been suicide, or maybe it did. It was clearly fiction noir. I remember that much.
I recently read an earlier Amis book, “The Rachel Papers”, written when Amis was still in his 20s, and perhaps a bit autobiographical. Perhaps. Here we have a young middle class man, finishing his high school education, wishing to go to Oxford, but realizing that in order to pass the exams required to get to Oxford he is going to need a year of directed study. So, he goes to London, moves in with his older sister and her husband, enrolls in a very small, off the beaten path, prep school, and discovers the beautiful Rachel, with whom he has a torrid affair (Rachel having two torrid affairs at the same time, one with an American exchange student), which looks like it will last forever (especially after he convinces her that he, not the American, is the man of her life), until one day he decides he just isn’t interested any more. So, it’s a typical coming of age story.
I did look up Amis on Wikipedia, and quickly read through much of what was said. I learned that “Night Train” was not a typical Amis book, and that “The Rachel Papers” was not a typical Amis book. A typical book, to quote Wikipedia, would demonstrate that “Amis’s work centers around the apparent excesses of late-capitalist Western society, whose perceived absurdity he often satirizes through grotesque caricature.” Neither of these books would fit that bill (and I am not sure I can identify “late capitalist Western society”, so, Prof. Wikipedia,……..are you sure of what you are saying?). It seems that “Money”, “London Fields” and “The Information” are the books to read to get the true Amis. One day.
But the two atypical books I read did have something in common. Both were very carefully, and well, and concisely written. And each, after a somewhat slow start, carried me along once I figured out the rhythm. And while I don’t remember humor as a main topic of “Night Train”, it shines throughout “Rachel”. As does a form of British slang – words I had never heard before, and which weren’t part of the inventory at Dictionary.com, or even Urbandictionary.com. So, I learned some new words that I will never use. That’s progress.