Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Nihilistic Swagger

It's not original but this description ("Nihilistic Swagger") sums up succinctly Martin Amis's style. Right back to the "Rachel Papers" I've always felt some unease when reading his lively, intelligent, and often funny novels. There was always an undercurrent of the snide, the prurient, and the post-adolescent. The protagonist was nearly always Amis himself with his tennis, his literary rivalaries, his sexual pecadilloes, and his relentless counting coup. The world view of this protagonist is invariably a jaded high-achiever, superficially sophisticated but a tad unhealthy in his sexual attitudes.

I've just struggled through his latest novel "The House of Meetings" where I found more of the same. This is the most disappointing of all Amis's novels for me. I found the structure confusing and it took a while to clarify where you were in the various periods and locations being covered. The intensity of the unnamed narrator's love for the heroine echoed 'Lolita" without the elegance of the writing. The clumsy "Americas" metaphor (breasts the US, waist Panama, arse Brazil) used to describe her hardly justified the depths of his passion. She remained a cipher. His extended riff on retrospective fidelity was pure Amis and seemed to be he primary fuel for the narrator's urges.

The stuff on the gulags was old hat. Anyone with any knowledge of Russian history had heard it before - right back to "A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" or more recently Anne Applebaum's "Gulag". And Amis himself has written far more convincingly about the period in his non-fiction work "Korba the Dread".

He should stick to non-fiction.