I’ve broken my new year’s resolution and I’m angry with myself. I’ve started reading a long book.
It’s a hardback first edition of London Fields by Martin Amis. I was going to sell it but the research I did suggested £5 would be the most I could get. It cost me £12.95 back in 1989 when that was a lot of money so I thought maybe I should read it instead.
The reason I’ve had it so long without reading it is that I can’t read hardback novels. They’re too cumbersome. And it’s a waste to buy the paperback when you’ve already got the hardback, isn’t it?
I wish publishers wouldn’t publish hardback fiction. I stopped buying it back in 1990. I’ve learned my lesson. It’s about time they learned theirs.
Of course, Martin Amis has a new (hardback) book out. I’d like to read it but this time I’ll wait. London Fields will do until The Pregnant Widow is published in more manageable form. I’m never in a rush to read a long book.
One of the reasons that London Fields is a long book is that Martin Amis is fond of repetitive rhetorical devices. You know, saying things twice. Or three times.
Not only that but he likes to go back over parts of the story again and tell it from someone else’s point of view.
He’s obviously envious of one of his main characters:
“Guy Clinch had everything. In fact he had two of everything.”
Martin Amis wants two of everything too and you can find two (and sometimes three) of everything on almost every page. Many of his words, like Guy Clinch, feel supererogotary. I don’t mind that, though. You can snooze while you read. I recently read a very short book by Len Deighton that was written so tersely that I had to keep going back and re-reading whole chapters two or three times to pick up the hints I thought I must have missed. Martin Amis does all that for you. You just have to keep going fowards.
“And meanwhile time goes about its immemorial work of making everyone look and feel like shit. You got that? And meanwhile time goes about its immemorial work of making everyone look, and feel, like shit.”
Of course the punctuation changes subtly so those of us who stay alert don’t feel we are wasting our time.
And we’re certainly not wasting our time. This is literary fiction. Not only are we having fun but we are improving our minds and morals. Did I say fiction? Silly me. As the narrator probes the lives of his three protagonists, his repetitive woodpecker pen wants far more than that.
“I must get into their houses. Keith will be tricky here, as in every other area. Probably, and probably rightly, he is ashamed of where he lives…Keith will naturally be tricky.
“With the murderee [Nicola Six] I have a bold idea. It would be a truthful move, and I must have the truth. Guy is reasonably trustworthy; I can allow for his dreamy overvaluations, his selective blindnesses. But Keith is a liar, and I’ll have to doublecheck, or triangulate, everything he tells me. I must have the truth. There just isn’t time to settle for anything less than the truth.
“I must get inside their houses. I must get inside their heads. I must go deeper — oh, deeper.”
Martin Amis can’t resist making fun of illiterate signs in pubs and shops. Illiteracy irks him. For a man who ponders every word at least twice it must irk him doubly, triply, exponentially. But once you become conscious of his addiction to the double, the triple echo, it becomes itself something to mock, a laughable vice of style.
Martin Amis, rather than his fictional narrator, must take full responsibility for this clumsy mannerism because it’s there even in his preface to the novel, signed with his own initials. Struggling with various naff ideas for the title of his novel (he almost called it Millennium — imagine!), he says:
“But as you see I kept ironic faith with my narrator, who would have been pleased, no doubt, to remind me that there are two kinds of title — two grades, two orders. The first kind of title decides on a name for something that is already there. The second kind of title is present all along: it lives and breathes, or it tries, on every page. My suggestions (and they cost me sleep) are all the first kind of title. London Fields is the second kind of title. So let’s call it London Fields. This book is called London Fields. London Fields …”
So. London Fields it is. A long book with a hypnotic and not unpleasant rhythm that is sometimes funny for the right reasons and sometimes funny for the wrong ones. By Martin Amis. A literary author with a sense of style. And lessons for us all. Lessons in love, lessons in life — and a short, sweet lesson in how to choose the title for your next literary novel. (Don’t call it Millennium!)