Wednesday, September 29, 2010
This book was published in 1981 and serves as a bridge of sorts between Amis' "apprentice trilogy" and his "London trilogy." It represents a quantum leap in narrative structure. Other People is a novel of existential mystery - the first half of its title alludes to Jean Paul Sartre's play No Exit, with its famous line "hell is---other people!" Stephen Jones (http://www.martinamisweb.com/) cites comments by Cropper that describe the structure as a double helix or Möbius strip - an insightful analogy in that the book is cyclical in time, yet the prologue and epilogue are inverted. The geometry analog speaks to the precision and rigidity with which Amis has calculated his narrative structure. We need to examine the plot in order to understand what is meant by this.
A few insights first from Diedrick's Understanding Martin Amis. Amis adopts the techniques of the "Martian School of Poetry," so called because Craig Raines published a poem "A Martian Sends a Postcard Home." Amis published the poem "point of View" in the New Statesman (12/14/79), a year before the appearance of the book. The poem's first stanza shockingly inverts perceptual and moral norms by imaging how deviants see other people. "Policeman look suspicious to normal/murderers. To the mature paedophile/A child's incurious glance is a leer/Of intimate salacity; in more/Or less the same way, live people remain/As good as dead to active necrophiles." The poem appears as prose in the book (pp. 186-187). According to Diedrick, the poem enacts in miniature the denaturalizing of a conventional understanding that characterizes the novel as whole. Further, this alien viewpoint has roots in Lyrical Ballads by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Wiliam Wordsworth. According to Coleridge, Wordsworth sought to "give the charm of novelty to things of every day." There's more. Symbolically, Mary is linked to the protagonist of Coleridge's supernatural poem "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." After the Mariner sins by killing the albatross, he enters the realm of "Life-in-Death," where he suffers the consequences of his past transgressions. He is delivered from this state of purgatory near the end of the poem, only to be consigned to an eternal repetition of his experiences by telling his story to listeners brought under his spell.
The book begins with a young woman, Mary, who later adopts the surname Lamb, reviving from death in a hospital. It opens "Her first feeling, as she smelled the air, was one of intense and helpless gratitude. I'm all right, she thought with a gasp. Time - it's starting again. She tried to blink away all the water in her eyes, but there was too much to deal with and she shut them tight. Someone leaned over her and said with a voice so close that it might have come from within her own head, 'Are you all right now?' " (p. 13).
She is a 100% total amnesiac. She has no memory of her past and no comprehension of bodily functions. Everything she knows is on the most literal level. Amis does a brilliant job of rendering the world from her amnesiac perspective and writing in an "awkward" and lean style to showcase that literal aspect of discovering life. He writes as if seeing the world through her eyes, ears, nose, taste, touch, and mind. Stating the obvious is never obvious. The familiar seems hauntingly strange. Like Raine's Martian, Mary sees the world from an alien perspective. Daily, she must reinvent herself. Early on in the book, she discovers her mouth while taking a drink - "She poked the small bottle into the hole in her head - her mouth, that wet and curious private part, a thing that seemed to have no business there, too vital and creaturely against the numb contours of her face...Was there anywhere else like that in your body, a place where you could feel from the inside and outside at the same time ?" (p. 32). Mary breaks free from the hospital and falls in with a motley collection of tramps, squatters, and fringe elements. She quickly learns about life's daily ablutions, men's desire, and fear.
Ultimately, a Mr. Prince enters her life, in the guise of a policeman. He is the narrator of the novel. He leads her into the dark labyrinth of her past. He reveals to her a resemblance to a teenager who was murdered (deservedly), Amy Hyde. He arranges for her to visit Amy's childhood home, where she begins to recognize benchmarks from her past. Ultimately she realizes that she is Amy Hide. Prince becomes more than a mentor, he becomes her lover. But in typical Amis fashion, we soon learn that he is also her murderer. In the last few pages of the book, she accepts that she must die at his hands, only to awaken in her home. "Her first feeling, as she smelled the air, was one of intense and helpless gratitude. I'm all right, she thought with a gasp. Time - it's starting again. She tried to blink away all the water in her eyes, but there was too much to deal with and she soon shut them tight. 'Are you all right now, Amy' her mother asked." (p. 222). This mimics the beginning of the book.
Amis has said that "The simple idea of the book - as I point out several times in the text - is, why should we expect death to be any less complicated than life ?...The novel is the girl's death, and her death is sort of a witty parody of her life...At the very end of the novel she starts her life again, the idea being that life and death will alternate until she gets it right" (Jones).
The Prologue and Epilogue are key to understanding the book and were misinterpreted or not understood by reviewers. The Prologue is written in the past tense, narrated by Prince. "This is a confession, but a brief one. I didn't want to have to do it to her. I would have infinitely preferred some other solution. Still, there we are. It makes sense, really, given the rules of life on earth; and she asked for it. I just wish there was another way, something more self-contained, economical, and shapely. But there isn't. That's life, as I say, and my most sacred duty is to make it lifelike. Oh, hell. Let's get it over with." The Epilogue is written i the present tense. "This is a promise. I won't do anything to her if she doesn't want me to. I won't do anything to her unless she asks for it. And that's not very likely, is it, at her age ? That's not very realistic? Still, at least she's legal - just about, I'm pretty sure...I feel as though I've doe these things before, and I am glazedly compelled to do them again. But perhaps all things like this feel like that. I'm - I'm tired. I'm not in control any more, not this time. Oh hell. Let's get it over with" (p. 224).
The repetition of these paragraphs suggest an unending cycle. Thus, the last section is not a flashback, but a continuation of the narrative sequence. Also, "This is a promise" parallels "This is a confession" suggesting that parallelism is capable of slight changes on each circuit. The Prologue, written in the past tense suggests the end of events, while the Epilogue in the present tense suggests the beginning. Putting them in the "wrong" order suggests the narrative is cyclical. Jones opines that the circularity of the narrative suggest that all 3 parties (narrator, reader, and character) have a distinct lack of control. It would appear that Amy is fated to repeat her life, and Prince to narrate it indefinitely, with only a slim chance of Amy breaking the cycle and "getting it right this time."
Monday, September 27, 2010
This is the 3rd book in what is loosely referred to as Amis' Apprentice Trilogy (The Rachel Papers, Dead Babies, Success). It is the story of two feuding foster brothers, Terry Service and Gregory Riding - their relationship foreshadows the feuding Oxford roommates in The Information and also introduces the concept of "narrative doubling" that plays a key role in Amis' future work. The book consists of 12 chapters (January - December) in which each chapter is partitioned into two halves consisting of 1st person narratives from Terry and Greg. Greg is an obnoxious high brow, works at an art gallery, and hobnobs with all forms of socialites and miscreants. His Bayswater flat mate is Terry, a "yob" (working class), who is the adopted son - we learn early on that his father Ronald murdered his mother and 9-year old sister (Rosie) and he was adopted by the wealthy Riding family. The brothers ultimately trade places, one is abject, the other ascendant. At the center of this story is a dark secret which ties in Ursula, Greg's birth sister, with the two protagonists. I won't spoil it.
Reviewers have pointed out some sloppiness in word choice, e.g., "his polychromatic teeth...now taper darkly off into the metallic hecatombs of his jaws" (p. 184), but hecatomb does not mean mausoleum, but rather animal sacrifice. Well, is it Greg or Martin that made the mistake ? Easy to blame the character. Powell complains (in N. Tredell's The Fiction of Martin Amis) that use of the local slang word 'tonto' for 'mad' is a "random instance of overstrained contemporaneity," restricting the range of the novel.
Critics have called Amis misogynist based on the clearly misogynist behaviour of the narrators, a criticism which stuck with him and may have precluded a Booker Award for London Fields. However, literary cognoscenti defend Amis as not representative of his characters.
Another "rictus" sighting (p. 221).
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Every time I start a Martin Amis novel I feel I'm in for a literary adventure. This is no exception and many consider it his greatest book, having been nominated for a Booker Prize when it was published in 1991 (after London Fields). It is about the Holocaust and the life of a Nazi war criminal (doctor) at Auschwitz, who tried to break away from his horrific background. There is one catch, the book is written in reverse, a veritable "tomb to womb" trajectory. Kurt Vonnegut's novel Slaughterhouse 5 is the precursor of Time's Arrow, based on an interview with Amis. Vonnegut's hero watches a World War II movie forwards and then backwards. Backwards, one glimpses Utopia. I have taken good advantage of some very insightful scholars' (James Wood and Brian Finney) comments to be found on http://www.martinamisweb.com/. Dealing with such a charged subject as the Holocaust, Amis has included an afterword, betraying some nervousness about the subject. Here we learn that the alternative title The Nature of the Offense is attributable to Primo Levi (Auschwitz survivor) and that a key source was the book The Nazi Doctors. It has been said that this book took great literary courage.
The book begins with the "birth" from death into life, of Tod Friendly (auto accident). Note "Tod" means death in German. We travel backwards through time from the country to New York City to the Vatican to Auschwitz. The narrator as homunculus living in the protagonist's brain (his soul, a reverse doppelgänger) seems to have little cognizance that time is running backwards. Yet the narrator is aware that he is inexorably traveling toward the revelation of a dreadful secret. "He is traveling towards his secret. Parasite or passenger, I am traveling there with him. It will be bad" (p. 63). At first, getting used to the reversal of time is a bit exhausting, but very amusing. Going to the bathroom involves sitting on a dirty toilet and sucking up excrement - "Corporeal life is not without its minor indignities. We still take it in the ass every morning, along with everything else" (p. 43). The narrator finds it so odd that Tod's female relations usually start with 15 minutes of shouting, infidelity, and recrimination, followed immediately by sex, the frequency tapers off to just kissing and hand holding and ultimately no interaction. "...here's the weird thing about these relationships with women: you get everything on the first date...An hour or two here, max, is all it takes. Oh mercy. You can go up to a woman on a street corner and start yelling at her and ten minutes later she's back at your place doing God knows what" (p. 51).
Food is vomited daily, not ingested. Garbage men spread rubbish across the streets, which is picked up by citizens. Kennedy's assassination is triumphantly transformed into a hero's welcome on his return to life in the streets of Dallas (p.81). When time is reversed, doctors wound, they do not heal. Tod is a physician, as a doctor patients are treated and they leave the office in pain. "You want to know what I do ? All right. Some guy comes in with a bandage around his head. We don't mess about. We'll soon have that off. He's got a hole in his head. So what do we do ? We stick a nail in it" (p. 76). The narrator gradually is demoralised by the hospital setting. "For we, we, we!- we demolish the human body...Here we are in our fatigues, delivering our damage" (pp. 74, 75). This is an intriguing foreshadowing of the inexorable arrival at Auschwitz, where evil is turned upside down.
When Tod moves to New York, he assumes a "new" name, John Young. At one point, the doctor takes a ship across the Atlantic, the narrator notes that "we leave no mark on the ocean, as if we are successfully covering our tracks" (p. 99). Of course, that is precisely what the doctor is doing. An important point becomes clear in the novel - that the narrator retains his memory from the start (Tod's rebirth), but the doctor can't remember anything as none of it has happened yet, his memory is from an earlier time, the narrator's memory never overlaps. We learn this on the ship heading for Europe "John's feeling tone is buoyant: he seems wonderfully relieved" (p. 99). But for the narrator "I didn't get away with it. I came too close...I can remember it all" (p. 100).
Arriving in Lisbon, he changes his name again to Hamilton de Souza. They move on to the Vatican, another name change. His German name is Odilo Unverdorben (p. 111) meaning "uncorrupt, innocent." Before too long they arrive at the Kat-Zet or KZ (short for Konzentrationslager (p. 118). Odilo works with "Uncle Pepi," clearly Josef Mengele. The narrator believes that Unverdorben performs miraculous resuscitations for his Jewish patients at Auschwitz - "Entirely intelligibly, though, to prevent needless suffering, the dental work was usually completed while the patients were not yet alive" (p. 121).
Amis' Utopian version of a dystopian event is at the core of the book. According to Wood, "the test of Amis' vision...it's capacity to go beyond the mere novelty of inversion - is what he does with Auschwitz. Shockingly, Auschwitz in a backwards world becomes a good place. History flows sweetly from 1945 to 1939, and the Jews are healed in Auschwitz...When Amis' benign Nazi looks at his prospering Jews, and asks, 'Our preternatural purpose ? To dream a race," he means the Jews, not the Aryans. Such ironies are almost unbearable, and yet this is not tasteless - how can it be more tasteless than Auschwitz itself ?...By reversing the narrative, Amis not only moves us with a vision of what might have been in some benign world, but hints also at the very moral delusion of the Nazis. Did not these evil men believe precisely that they were doing good, dreaming a race, turning back history and time ? The Nazis first attempted to turn the Holocaust into a Utopian narrative, not Amis...In moments like this, Amis' novel seems to me to transcend its own virtuosity."
According to Finney "Amis relies on three different perspectives for this section to work. There is Odilo's perverted misinterpretation of the Hippocratic oath. There is the naive narrator's celebration of Odilo's seeming miracles of healing. And there is the modern reader's sinking knowledge of what really went on a Nazi death camps."
The American post-hardcore band Thursday wrote a song called "Times Arrow", based on the novel. It appears on the "Common Existence" album. The Canadian indie rock band The Weakerthans wrote a song called "Time's Arrow", based on the novel. It appears on their 2003 album Reconstruction Site. Both songs can be found on Youtube at the time of this post. Readers may recall Brad Pitt's Academy Award-winning The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), but note that in the movie, only BB gets younger while the world still ages.
Saturday, September 4, 2010
This is the 3rd book (1995) in Amis' so-called "London Trilogy." Martin Amis is considered Britain's number one, top drawer, literary heavyweight. He received a £500,000 advance (and free dental work) for this "literary novel," an unheard of sum, creating great friction with his peers. These sums are more accepted for mass-market novelists like John Grisham (Amis pokes fun at Grisham's The Client or The Firm with this book's title). Moreover, in the art imitates life department, he dismissed his long-time British agent, the wife of his close friend Julian Barnes, for an American agent. This book has all the trappings of a book written by such an esteemed author, but it disappoints the casual reader. Much of the book seems an exercise in the author's cleverness, and it is indeed clever, and funny, and sexy. Jamie Maw calls the book "inciteful instead of insightful...and Martin Amis becomes Martin Aimless." This read is purely for Amis fanatics. A deep dive exploration of this book is endlessly rewarding. I'm providing as many clues as possible, since there appears to be little in the way of web accessible scholarly analysis.
The story of this literary rivalry revolves around two 40-year-old (p. 4) novelists (one day separates their birth dates, same as Tull's sons) who shared a room at Oxford. One, Gwyn Barry, has become wildly successful writing bland and optimistic books that present no challenge to the reader and glorify mediocrity, the other, Richard Tull, has too much information to write well, and is incapable of writing a successful work himself (not unlike Sam in London Fields). Richard has a job writing reviews for Tantalus Press (in Greek mythology, Tantalus suffers an eternity of unfulfilled desire). He brings upon himself endless miserable luck. Richard, the protagonist, spends 374 pages trying to undermine Gwyn's success, of course, Gwyn deserves it. Tull can't fathom the success Gwyn has lucked into writing "trex." "Gwyn's trex was loved by the world; his trex was universal" (p. 126). Ah, what is trex ? In the UK, Trex is a vegetable oil brand, like Crisco. The internet is awash with disgruntled readers who can't figure out just what Amis means by "trex." In fact, Amis does define it implicitly late in the text - "slapping some slice of trex into a frying pan" (p. 335). In the end, Richard's scheming will exact a heavy toll on himself and his family.
Martin Amis appears through the novel as an omniscient narrator. He tells a story of male mid-life angst over innocence lost, dreams deferred, and fears unallayed (see Diedrick's Understanding Martin Amis). Consider the novel's opening line "Cities at night, I feel, contain men who cry in their sleep and then say Nothing. It's nothing. Just sad dreams" (p. 3). Much of the book is highly autobiographical. He pokes fun at himself changing agents when he notes "Gwyn Barry had switched agents, controversially taking his custom from Harley, Dexter, Fielding to Gal Aplanalp" (p. 40). When Richard summarized the books he has written "Aforethought was first person, Dreams Don't Mean Anything strictly localized third; both nameless, the I and the he were author surrogates...." (p. 125) Amis is talking about The Rachel Papers, Dead Babies, and subsequent novels.
Gwyn (like Guinea, equivalent to 21 shillings or £1.05) Barry is married to aristocratic Lady Demeter de Rougement (p. 79), "related to the Queen" (p. 188), daughter of the Earl of Rieveaulx (p. 101). She has a shady history of cocaine binges and promiscuity. She is taking driving lessons from a fellow aptly named "Crash," who is tied in with a group of thugs (Darko, 13, Belladonna) led by Steve Cousins, known as "Scozzy." Tull inadvertently falls in with these guys and makes a plan to hire them to "fuck Gwyn up" (p. 25). Amusingly, Cousins is perhaps Tull's only book fan (p. 110), seen on a train reading Dreams Don't Mean Anything. Tull quizzes him about first novel Aforethought, "What big thing happens exactly halfway through Aforethought?" Scozzy responds "It goes into the - into italics" (p. 113). Alert readers will recognize this as a reference to Amis' book Money.
Richard hatches a big plan to "seduce Gwyn's wife" (p. 122), but later that plan falls flat, likely due to Richard's chronic impotence, 'small' detail. An effort to hook up Belladonna with Gwyn fails when Richard realizes in a very postmodern moment in the book, Belladonna says "[Gwyn] loves me," Richard, "You mean you think he loves you," "It's the way he like looks at me," "When does he look at you?' "When he's on TV" (p. 133). Ah, Tull realizes that he's been had. Later, Richard's plan gets waylaid ("He had called off Steve Cousins" (p. 210)) when Tull joins Gwyn on a U.S. book tour in response to Gwyn's U.S. award - the "Profundity Requital," with stops in New York, Wash DC, Miami Beach, Chicago, Denver, LA, Boston, and Provincetown. There is great hilarity in this Part Three of the book, especially when they do a book signing in adjacent rooms in Boston. Gwyn has SRO crowds seeking autographs for his 3rd book Amelior Regained, and Richard has a few people show (He took the lectern to a Krakatoa of applause: from next door" (p. 277)), one with a copy of the book entitled Untitled, which he returns to Richard, because he thought it was so bad. Tull has been asked by Gal Aplanalp, publisher for both Richard and Gwyn, to write a Profile for Gwyn. Gwyn's wife figures centrally in his Profile, as she keeps saying that Gwyn "can't write for toffee" (p. 327). Richard fails to pick up on her malapropism, but Gwyn does later, when he realizes she "means peanuts, love. Not toffee" (p. 351). Demi equates "can't write for peanuts" with "deserves to be paid properly." it's easy to miss this comic device.
When interviewed by the 3 judges (Lucy Cabretti, Elsa Oughton, and Stanwyck Mills) (p. 96) for the Profundity Requital, he takes every opportunity to badmouth Gwyn in the areas of racism, sexism, and criminality. Each judge finds Gwyn's book bland, yet through Tull's effort to discredit Gwyn, the judges latch onto his beliefs and renew interest in voting the award to him. Tull is thrilled that the judges seem disinterested, more fuel for his Profile. Ironically, Richard plans to use the proceeds of his Profile to fund the violence against Gwyn (p. 316). Gwyn is totally narcissistic. The narrator uses the word "Condescension" when referring to an episode in which Gwyn pays a visit to Pamela, his young assistant - "the willing, the indulgent dilution of one's own superlative being, for the delight and enrichment of simpler lives" (p. 296). Ultimately, all the women in the book fall under Gwyn's spell.
Amis infuses the book with astronomical lingo, particularly with respect to the life cycle of stars, like our sun. For example, "A yellow dwarf is a terrible thing to be called, probably because - more pertinently - it is a terrible thing to be. A terrible thing. Poor, poor yellow dwarf. I would like her to know that yellow dwarfs are good. I owe my life to a yellow dwarf, as do we all - the one up there: the sun" (p. 89). Later, "Richard sometimes tried to anthropomorphize the sun and planets - or to solar-systematize his immediate circle", and he assigns his wife, Gina, as Mother Earth, Gwyn as Jupiter, etc. "He knew who he was. He was Pluto; and Charon was his art" (p. 169). Pluto is the God of Death and Charon is the ferryman who conveys the dead to Hades. This obsession with planets and spheres can be attributed to Borges' short story "The Aleph."
It is well known that Borges had a large influence on Amis. It is no surprise then that Borges' short story "The Aleph" appears in the book with great significance. "Richard...was thinking about a story: "The Aleph," by Jorge Luis Borges. About a magical device, the aleph, that knew everything: like the Knowledge. about a terrible poet, who wins a big prize, a big requital, for his terrible poem" (p. 165). The reference to Gwyn Barry is obvious. Daneri is a mediocre poet with a vastly exaggerated view of his own talent who has made it his lifelong quest to write an epic poem that describes every single location on the planet in excruciatingly fine detail. Likewise Richard is famed at his own pub, The Warlock, for his skill at a video game that tests cultural knowledge. "Who was said to be the last man to have read everything ? Coleridge...Two hundred years on, nobody had read a millionth of everything, and the fraction was getting smaller every day" (p. 178). But as Diedrick points out, Richard is like Tantalus, striving for a cultural mastery that always exceeds his grasp.
While we're on the topic of Borges, another short story plays a key role in the book, The Circular Ruins. It is important to understand the story. An experienced wizard retreats from the world to a location that possesses strong mystical powers: the circular ruins. There, the wizard tries to create another human being from his own dreams. Sleeping and dreaming longer and longer each day, the magician dreams of his young man becoming educated, and wiser. After time, though, the wizard can no longer find sleep, and he deems his first attempt an inevitable failure. After many sleepless nights, the wizard dreams of a heart; vaguely at first, but more and more clearly each night. Years pass and the wizard creates the boy piece by piece, in agonizing detail. The wizard calls upon the god Fire to bring his creation to life. Fire agrees, as long as the wizard accustoms his creation to the real world, and that only Fire and the wizard will be able to tell the creation from a real human. His creation is sent to a distant temple of the god Fire, and becomes famous as, because it is not real, it can walk through fire unharmed. The wizard hears of this, but at length he awakes to find the ruins ablaze. As he ultimately walks into the flaming house of Fire, the wizard notices that his skin does not burn. "With relief, with humiliation, with terror, he understood that he too was a mere appearance, dreamt by another." Now, Tull receives a review manuscript from a poet Keith Horridge (note that forename recalls Keith Talent from London Fields), containing 3 poems, "Ever", "Disappointment", and "Woman." But there is a subtle catch, in a cover letter Horridge says that "Woman...is a departure for me, and possibly breakthrough. Here for the first time I cast off all influences and speak in my own voice" (p. 318). Tull recognizes that the lines are lifted from "something impregnably famous like..."The Circular Ruins"...He looked at Horridge's shining margins and saw all the thumb prints and palm sweat. And it came to him" (p. 319). It was plagiarism. Of course, this sets in motion Tull's grand idea to scheme against Gwyn Barry, as discussed below. But there's a bigger picture, just as the magician discovers in The Circular Ruins that he was "a mere appearance, dreamt by another" so all literature is derived from earlier works (the so-called Canon). Amis is making a statement about the thin line that separates intertextuality (i.e. borrowing themes from previous literature) from outright plagiarism. In contradistinction, The Information values its own intertextual relation to Borges (and many others).
Let's continue to explore the plagiarism motif. Tull has been working an a book entitled The History of Increasing Humiliation. "It would be a book accounting for the decline of the status and virtue of literary protagonists. First gods, then demigods, then kings, then great warriors, great lovers,then burghers and merchants and vicars and doctors and lawyers. Then social realism: you. Then irony: me. Then maniacs and murderers, tramps, mobs, rabble, flotsam, vermin" (p. 92). Keen Amis cognoscenti will notice that Tull is stealing these lines from Amis' Moronic Inferno (p. 5), a reverse plagiarism ! Just as Richard is a fictional author who steals work from an actual writer (Martin Amis), he will invent a further fictional author to make the charge of plagiarism against Gwyn Barry.
We are on a roll here, because the descending status of literary protagonists ties into the ubiquitous astronomy theme. The next paragraph parallels "The history of astronomy. The history of astronomy is the history of increasing humiliation. First the geocentric universe, then the heliocentric universe. Then the eccentric universe - the one we're living in. Every century we get smaller. Kant figured it all out, sitting in his armchair. What's the phrase ? The principle of terrestrial mediocrity" (p.93). The parochial nature of our desires is scaled against the vastness of the universe. The recurring theme of yellow dwarfs, like our sun, which is waning, belittles our ever so brief time on the planet. The last line of the book "And then there is the information, which is nothing, and comes at night" (p. 374) confirms that all the complex knowledge that we gather cannot prolong or render our existence more than trivial.
Amis has a style built upon "extended withholding of information" (p. 38 of Danish Masters thesis by Græsborg and Lind (2000) of Aalborg Univ., see reference below in London Fields blog). Of course the withholding of information is so dramatically ironic as it applies to our subject novel. According to the Danes, this technique is used "to create tension and excitement, forcing the reader to consider the novel on a page by page basis, constantly revising whatever expectations have been built up." This approach was mastered in London Fields but plays in The Information as well, most notably in regards to a certain fender bender invoked by one Agnes Trounce, Gwyn's elderly neighbor on Calchalk St. Gwyn is introduced as "the target is driving along, feeling relatively happy, immeasurably happier, certainly, than he is going to feel in about ninety seconds. These moments will in retrospect appear golden-age, prelapsarian. So that's right: he doesn't have a care in the world. Intense and lasting cares are arriving, brought to him by Agnes Trounce" (p. 147). We soon learn that Ms. Trounce has backed into Gwyn's car in a Morris Minor. After a few harsh words are exchanged, "two young men, big lads, who have been lying low in the back of the Morris suddenly extend their bodies into the street" and next we learn "And in the other car the target's head, by this time, is jerking and crunching around between the door and door frame. It was just a motoring dispute....." We don't know who was involved or what really happened, we will not learn the details until later (p. 307, and later, p. 349), when Richard types in a piece for his Profile relating to Gwyn's hospital stay "Retrograde amnesia at first suggested major closed-head injury....Signs of trauma are painfully apparent - but Gwyn Barry is out of Intensive Care." Now we have some real information, but not all. The details are revealed when the scene is replayed in detail "Nobody," said Steve Cousins, coming forward and reaching under his coat for the car tool , "and I mean nobody, calls my mother a cunt" (p. 342).
Recalling the role of narrator as 1st person in London Fields, there is a curious entry of the narrator in The Information, just when Steve Cousins secretly enters Gwyn's house at night. Oddly, he does no harm. This authorial intrusion takes the form "I said I wasn't going in there, not yet. But here I am. I can't control him, all his life. They couldn't control him. And I can't control him. And Richard Tull won't be able to control him" (p. 170). It seems to be one of many entry points in the book for the narrator. Later, Scozzy relates to Richard that there was an intruder in Gwyn's house, careful not to reveal that it was himself (remembering that Richard has him under hire) (p. 185). Some of the author's intrusions are lengthy, consider "It so happens that I know quite a lot about dating - down at that end of the scale. As a man Who stands five-feet-six-inches tall (or five-feet-six-and-one-half inches, according to a passport I once had), I know about dating and size....Thirty years ago my very slightly older but very much taller brother would sometimes arrange foursomes for my benefit: my brother's girlfriend would be asked to bring a girlfriend along - or a sister. And I would wait, in a doorway, while he made a rendezvous and then report back saying, "Come on, She's tiny" - or else (shaking his head), "Sorry, Mart" (p. 207). Cannot be more explicit than "Sorry, Mart."
So just what is the information in The Information ? Never explicit, always implicit. At one point, Richard gives a clue "Richard had information on Demi now, and information always points to the vulnerable - the hidden" (p. 190). As Richard completes the plagiarized version of Amelior, he notes "Had he become Gwyn Barry ? Was this the information " (p. 327). The clarifying revelation of what "the information" actually is, never materializes. Tull's devious plan is to write an "original" version of his rival's best-seller novel by manufacturing the evidence that will indict him, in hopes that Gwyn Barry will be accused of having plagiarized Tull's work.
The novel has a very dark and disconcertingly ambiguous ending. Abandonment is the theme upon which the novel ends. Let's first examine a story within the story, viz., the relation between Richard and his two sons, brothers born on both sides of midnight (neither identical nor fraternal twins), Marco and Marius (p. 4). Amis tells of the relation between Richard and the young boys with great sensitivity. Of course, the book is dedicated to his own sons, Louis and Jacob. Marco had a mild "learning disability" (p. 49) and for such he was identified as an artist. At the very end of the book, Richard's relation with the underworld catches up with him. The 7-year old Marco is "kidnapped" by Scozzy, while left unattended. Richard later sees his son alone on the street. "He realized that he still had the vacuum cleaner in his arms, across his body, round his neck. Richard was still Laocoön, engulfed in coils and hoops...Father and son started hurrying toward each other. Marco wasn't crying, but Richard had never seen him looking so unhappy" (p. 372). The reader never learns explicitly what happened to Marco inside Scozzy's van. By the way, the draped vacuum is evocative of Laocoön (priest of Apollo) - he and his sons are killed by serpents after warning the Trojans not to enter their city. So this is how it all had to end, with Richards malicious plans come home to roost. His story is a human story, what he calls "the journey from Narcissus to Philoctetes" (p. 145), the Greek warrior whose wound would not heal.
In the end, The Information is a tragicomedy (or melodrama), avoiding a tragic ending. The seasons are out of sync "But we haven't had much luck with our seasons. Not yet, anyway. We did satire in summer, and comedy in autumn, and romance in winter" (p. 362). Spring beckons tragedy. Yet when the story ends, we observe "the anti-comedy of the apple blossom loosening in the wind" (p. 371). The ending is melancholic, not tragic.
Early in the book, Tull considers giving up smoking. "Paradoxically, he no longer wanted to give up smoking: what he wanted to do was take up smoking....It was more that he felt the desire to smoke a cigarette even when he was smoking a cigarette" (p. 79). Julian Loose (in N. Tredell's The Fiction of Martin Amis) referring to Amis' prose waxes "such passages are so enjoyably overwhelming, so addictively all-consuming, that you feel you want to read a novel by Martin Amis, even when you are reading a novel by Martin Amis."
"Rictis" sighting (p. 371).