A little while ago I decided I didn’t want to write any more reviews of books I didn’t enjoy. There are two reasons for this. First, I don’t like doing it, the posts are hard to write, I don’t want to be negative, and I believe that if you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all. Secondly, the purpose of this blog isn’t to provide a buyer’s guide to books; I started it as part of learning to write myself and to capture what I learn from reading.
I was a bit conflicted about whether I should review Money by Martin Amis because, in the end, I didn’t like it, but, I read it for reasons that have to do with learning to write. In May I went on an Arvon Foundation course. Throughout the course the tutors referred to books and writers that they felt we could learn from, and they stressed the importance of reading for writers. I came away with quite a list. Several of Martin Amis’ books were mentioned and, given I’m not a fan of literary fiction, this one had a subject that I thought I’d find interesting. So, here we go.
Money is an exercise in voice. John Self, the first person narrator, is a wild, chaotic character who consumes too much of everything at breakneck speed in order to avoid confronting the soullessness of his life. The voice is full of slang and is witty and entertaining. I enjoyed it a lot. The worldbuilding experience is similar to that you get with science fiction and fantasy where you’re not quite sure what all the words mean but the cumulative effect creates a fantastical world. Amis very cleverly conveys that there is much more going on than John Self realises. The characters are well-drawn and believable, even the most outrageous depictions of the celebrities. But the pace and wit of the start of the book aren’t maintained. I suspect that is done deliberately, but as the voice became more sober I became less engaged.
There is a character in the story called Martin Amis, a writer, and I found those sections jarring. It’s not just the name. The dialogue of that character and his relationship with John Self don’t feel as true as the rest of the book. It’s self-conscious and pompous. I found it bounced me out of the storyworld.
The plot is that John Self is an ad director who has been offered backing for a film. There is apparently a lot of money flying about, big stars, lots of investment, and the producer, Fielding Goodney, encourages John to live the high life. There’s some blackouts – John Self is a convincing alcoholic – some events he doesn’t remember, some clues that all is not right but John is not capable of recognising them. It’s a scam. I won’t reveal the twist, such as it is, but you’ll see it coming in plenty of time. The Martin Amis character is used as a mouthpiece for explaining the plot at the end. Normally, I don’t like that, but I was left with a feeling of ‘is that it?’ so I was reading on in case there was more to it than I’d realised. There wasn’t.
The ending of the book was disappointing. On the course one of the tutors said that story is about change in the protagonist’s feeling. That does happen, but the change is small and the book is long, and it’s not very satisfying. I felt cheated. There was a lot I liked about Money and I enjoyed at least the first half of the book. The characterization and voice were excellent, I loved the language, it was witty, and I liked the pace. It is skillfully done. On the other hand, the ending was a let down, I felt nothing had really happened (although there’s more plot than that suggests), and it became less engaging in the second half. The irritation of the Amis character contributed to this. And this book will end up in the pile of ‘reasons I don’t like literary fiction’.