Somewhere between my beginning Money: A Suicide Note by Martin Amis and my book club discussion of it (which started about two minutes after I finished reading), the following happened, roughly in this order:

  • About twenty pages in, I feared that it was the most misogynist book I had ever picked up.
  • I mentioned this to my significant other and he took the book from me, opening it at random, and read, "Then I tried to rape her again." He balked and returned the book to me, commenting that he'd be interested in hearing the reaction from my all-female book club.
  • Despite my frequent discomfort, I became aware that there was some utterly beautiful writing in this book.
  • I figured out what the twist at the end of the book would be.
  • Martin Amis writes himself into the book and, surprised by this, I ditched my previous assumption as to how things would turn out and just went along with things for a while.
  • I lost count of the instances of exploitation, physical violence, intended violence, or verbal abuse toward women. But I also realized that the book wasn't misogynist at all. (And even if it had been, I had forgotten that no one beats John Updike for the title of most misogynist writer ever.)
  • Whatever his faults, one had to admit that the narrator was unflinchingly honest.
  • I returned to support my previous prediction of what the ending would be, despite the author being a character in his own novel.
  • I became aware that I was actually feeling sorry for the main character, somewhere around his futile attempts at reform.
  • I snickered at a very self-aware section that talked about the rush of finishing a book.
  • The twist ending sets in, as I predicted.
  • I finished the book.
  • While discussing the book with my book club, I realized that I actually really had enjoyed it.

Money is a first person narrative, told from the perspective of John Self, a director on the verge of making his first major film after creating a name for himself by directing commercials that generally featured busty women in hot pants. He is a hedonist the likes of which you may have never encountered; he seems to live on prostitutes and pornography. Weighing sixteen stone, he consumes copious amounts of fast food and is always either drunk or hungover. He lives in London but makes frequent trips out to New York, where he has started to collaborate with Fielding Goodney, a young film producer, who insists that John should actually be spending more money. Also living in New York is Martina Twain, a "friend" of John's and the most normal person in the narrative. She's married and while John certainly wants her, you don't sense the same kind of filthy thoughts directed her as he seems to direct towards every other woman. Back in London, John has an unfaithful girlfriend named Selina who he knows is only interested in the money and potential security he can provide, though as John repeatedly gives into her demands, one can see that Selina clearly has most of the power in this relationship. John's father, Barry Self, is also in London (his mother died when John was young), though they don't have a fantastic relationship. Barry once invoiced John for the costs of his upbringing, which came to a little under nineteen thousand pounds; John wrote him a check for twenty.

John Self has an idea for a movie, which he originally calls Good Money (though eventually this becomes Bad Money and the obvious significance of this should not be lost on you). He and Goodney are looking to procure a writer for the script and four solid actors, though three of the four have basically been locked down and only the fourth is up for minor discussion by the time the book starts. First we have Lorne Guyland, whose career is waning, though he is unaware that. Slated to play the father, Lorne is constantly suggesting "improvements" to the script, which often feature explicit nudity and sex and the ultimate triumph of his character. Lorne repeatedly takes off his clothing when having conversations with John to make a point. Cast as Lorne's wife is Caduta Massi, who might be childless in real life (and thus seems to compensate for this by surrounding herself with family and children) but she is a strong motherly figure. She refuses to perform any nude scenes or any sex scenes with Lorne... and loathes all scenes with Lorne in general. Sexy Butch Beausoleil will play the younger waitress sleeping with both father and son, but refuses to do any menial chores; she agrees with Lorne that there should be explicit sex, but wants to emphasize that as the young woman, she is giving herself to an old man out of pity. And then Spunk Davis (whose name is intentionally awkward) is the questionable fourth; an intense Christian who doesn't smoke, drink, believe in violence, or have sex, with only one film to his credit. Two of John Self's duties are to try and convince Spunk to change his name and to be okay with a father-son fight. Goodney has also settled on a writer, who produces an excellent script that threatens to ruin the entire film with its incisive honesty into the characters/actors portraying the characters, which doesn't fly with actors who each want to be seen as a shining hero. Oh, and there's also this "Frank the Phone" character, an unknown someone who calls John when he's at his lowest moments and berates him for his behavior.

The majority of the novel is spent in drunken binges, reflections on handjobs, and John's careening between interactions with the people above (which are often drunken and sometimes sexual in nature). The surprise guest (as I mentioned before) is the character of Martin Amis, who appears as a writer that John occasionally sees around his London neighborhood and eventually John speaks to him at a pub. Amis comes into play when John tries to "save" the script by having Amis re-write it to appease the actors. At this point, John's life seems to be working itself out: Selina leaves him after becoming pregnant with Martina's husband's child, Martina kicks her husband out, and John essentially moves in with Martina, resulting in an interesting companionship where John can't seem to perform now that he actually "has" Martina. Of course, it doesn't last.

So why did I actually enjoy this novel? Don't get me wrong, there's a lot that just wasn't up my alley. I would never actually want to know these people or have anything to do with them, but that's the beauty of reading about them in a novel... when you've had your fill, you can set the book down. Of course, with this one, you don't want to set it down; despite the content, it's hard to refute that Martin Amis is quite the wordsmith. I don't know that I've ever encountered a writer who can make me laugh while simultaneously cringing to the same degree as Amis. I certainly don't like John Self as a person, for he's an incredibly unsavory character, but I can't help but be pulled in by his narrative. He's riding the wave of his success, completely binging on cigarettes, women, alcohol, porn and whatever else he can get ahold of. Money is at the root of almost every single interaction and Self appears to be the only one who cannot see that he's in for one heck of a crash should the money dry up. Such satire generally aims to bring about some reformation in the main character, but with the subtitle like "A Suicide Note" and with John's general grasp of the world, it is hard to hope for any true reform... which aids in the creation of an atmosphere of such tragedy and devastation while everything is still terribly funny. Self is only bringing all of this upon... well... himself.

Martin Amis, as you may well know, is the son of writer Kingsley Amis, who famously took little notice of his son's work. Evidently he once complained of his son's writing that all he's doing is, "Breaking the rules, buggering about with the reader, [and:] drawing attention to himself." Martin Amis attended many schools (and like John Self, he was familiar with both England and New Jersey), but ultimately he graduated from my college at Oxford University, Exeter College. He has been cited as "the Bad Boy" of English fiction (mostly because of his chosen topics for his novels), but I prefer the description the NY Times has used, which says Amis is simply at the forefront of "the new unpleasantness" style.

His comic talent lies simply in describing things as they are in the postmodern world and he is firmly rooted to this time period, describing it for all the energy and chaos it embodies. It might not be an obvious comparison, but it's actually somewhat clear to me that he found Jane Austen to be an influence upon his work, given the unflinching honesty and biting wit that he uses to describe characters. Perhaps that's why I ultimately found this to be quite an impressive novel. Of course, the fantastic sentence construction, shockingly beautiful prose and great comedic insight had to help.

I might not recommend this novel to the squeamish (and indeed, I'm not sure I'd ever actually *give* this novel to anyone, because I'm not sure what kind of message that would send), but if you're able to move beyond the unpleasantness, it's quite a compelling read. Would I wish to live in this world of selfishness, manipulation, and obscenity? Heavens no. But will I be reading more Martin Amis in the future? Fuck yeah.

1 comment:

scatteredpaper said...

Oh, and this is from 2008 (via springinfialta.blogspot.com) -- apparently Robert Pattinson wants to be in Money. This only feels timely because I went to see/laugh at New Moon this weekend with her and Money was her book club selection.