London Fields – Martin Amis

Fact File

  • NB – This is not about the park in Hackney but the book in my hand
  • 470 pages
  • Published 1989
  • There is a forthcoming film adaptation with a cast more star-studded than Orion’s favourite belt
  • Some say that this is Martin Amis’s best work
  • If the book had a taste, it would, like some of his other books, be metallic

My thoughts

Martin Amis is a proper writer. Anything he writes comes confidently under the umbrella of ‘Literary Fiction’ and is undoubtedly going to be a rewarding read. His prose is packed full of clever wordplay and esoteric allusion which keeps the reader engrossed. In his better works (Money, and London Fields), there is a curious coupling of high, educated prose and low, telluric subject matter; like seeing a phallus on the wall at Pompeii. Amis loves the criminal class and is determined to be brutally honest in his considerations of all types of people. He doesn’t shirk from words like “gusset”.

However. What I always find when I read a novel by Martin Amis is that I do so for his voice and his style. Never have I found the stories interesting or engaging if examined objectively. Amis is a reverse Rowling: whilst the plot of Harry Potter is thicker than a whale omelette (word to Blackadder), there is little to no authorial finesse. Conversely, whilst London Fields is witty and erudite, the plot is thinner than an ant’s cane. Again, I love reading Amis when he’s at his gritty best (The Zone of Interest was a bit of a chore) and this isn’t intended as an insult, but clearly his strength lies in his style not his story.

The novel is essentially an exposition of the eclectic characters (Keith Talent is a brilliant creation) and, to be brutally honest, nothing really happened and if it did, I didn’t really care, I just cared how it was told. I enjoyed the clash of different cultures who, although of different classes, congregated in The Black Cross like bugs under a rock. There is an element of Greek tragedy in the book, in that because the audience knows what’s going to happen (we’re told at the beginning), the interest is entirely in how it unfolds and I was grateful for that because, as aforementioned, I don’t read Amis for the story.

This book did take me an awful long time to read. It isn’t because I didn’t enjoy it, but sometimes Amis can be a bit stodgy, like running through thigh-high water. For some reason, it took me longer to process his words. This is not a criticism, it is a testament to the skill and craftsmanship of the author if I have to read a book slowly yet still enjoy it. Ulysses took me forever because I continually re-read sentences and noticed little gems planted in the text and London Fields was similar.

There is something about it that I can’t put my finger on however. Having said that this novel is “witty” and being pummelled by tags like “black comedy”, I didn’t once laugh at the book. I often smiled or nauseatingly smirked at something because I appreciated the wordplay or observation, yet whilst witty, this book was not funny and I can’t work out how it can be both. I don’t think it’s a feature of Amis’s style because I remember laughing at Money.

If you have read London Fields or anything by Martin Amis, please do leave a comment about what you thought. If you haven’t read anything by him, leave me a comment anyway.

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