Martin Amis, The Information

I've spent lots of hours outside my usual reading habits recently, working my way through Martin Amis' The Information more slowly than I expected. It deserves all the praise it's received, this novel, because it really is remarkable, but I didn't find myself drawn in the way I thought I might.

It was a gift from a friend, a good one, but for a little while there I wasn't sure how to take the gift! After all, it's about a fellow exactly my age whose career is a dead end, whose family life is often unpleasant, who has no real friends, and who is consumed by an assortment of nasty emotions. After seeking some clarification about where exactly I was to be seeing myself in our hero (whose first name, unhelpfully for me, happens to be Richard), I put all that aside and dove in more readily.

But still, I never did find this an easy book to read. Or rather, reading this book made me persistently uneasy. Richard Tull really is a troll, corrupt and inadequate, and yet one nonetheless recognizes elements of him in oneself. (Enough distance there? Hmm.) There's just no way you can see him ever, ever, coming to a happy ending, and he doesn't particularly deserve one, but his attempts to poison everyone else's endings still somehow come off as not altogether unappealing. Very dicey.

Amis does a wonderful job, I have to say, of portraying unhappy relationships, masculine self-doubt, and violent jealousy: I've seen them elsewhere, of course, but The Information is terrific on these things. Not particularly pleasant, but then I got off on the wrong foot. If I was able to read the novel more purely as satire ("blackly hilarious," as the blurb calls it, or "pleasantly wicked," according to the San Franciso Chronicle), then I think it would have been a different experience altogether. After all, I think Fargo is hilarious as well as dark, yet also affirming in a way, and when I come back to this book, that's how I expect it'll go.

Of course, I'll be older than Richard Tull by then, so I'll be able to shake my greybearded head at his foolishness, recognizing none of myself in him....


Keith Talent said…
London Fields.

Like The Information only better.
fiona-h said…
I think The Information is like London Fields only better :-)

I found this book very funny in places -- my favorite is the scene with the Sunday LA Times.

And I like Richard Tull a lot!
richard said…
Now, you two play nicely....

Fiona, it was definitely very funny in places, but a lot of it was just in a register I didn't feel I understood. Just about the entire subplot with Steve Cousins, for example: why's he naked all the time in his apartment? And what on earth is 13's real place in all this? (Apart from generating a reflexive but misplaced kids-these-days snort, I guess.)

The best way I can explain my reaction is to say that I felt like a bloody colonial while reading The Information. It's not that it's too smart for me, but at some level it felt impenetrable nonetheless because my enculturation was so deeply lacking.

Kind of like a 340-page New Yorker cartoon. I can tell that it's funny, more or less, but I can't reliably explain why....

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