Monday, September 27, 2010

Success by Martin Amis

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 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).

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