Well. This… this is unexpected. Two 5+ books back to back? Does the reading of this book – a book that felt more than a little bit like Gravity’s Rainbow in terms of the sheer “before/after” of the reading experience – alter the way I felt about the last one? I think it does. I’m having trouble (in the back-to-back-ing) reconciling the two novels as being anything remotely the same.
Shteyngart’s book was a masterwork because it caught me off-guard. It made me laugh, it made me think, it made me gasp, and it made me overlook its shortcomings. Amis’ book was a masterwork because it felt like a lynchpin. It made me laugh, it made me pause, it made me think, and it made me understand it despite its best efforts to the contrary. That was a confusing statement but allow me to explain.
First off, anything you think you know about that modern first-person narrative – the unreliable narrator, the direct address… think Fight Club, think Ronan Noone’s The Atheist (seriously), think American Psycho. Actually, seriously, think American Psycho. This book feels like that book’s older cousin who taught it everything it knows. John Self is a smug, arrogant, drug-and-drink addled, sex-crazed tosser. And I can’t believe it, but I enjoyed Self. He’s most of the things I despise in a human being – prone to beating women, abusing his friends, getting so mindboggingly drunk that he loses days. And yet, he’s one entertaining sonofabitch.
The plot of the novel, such as it is, revolves around Self supposedly making a movie called (at some points) Good Money or Bad Money or just Money. But really, it is about Self. Heyyy look at that – but seriously. It is about John Self discovering and indeed killing himself. It is about his plummeting fall and what happens when he tries to pick himself up. That sounds so fucking clichéd and silly but its true – but the book is so much more than that. Just as American Psycho isn’t really about a serial killer, this book isn’t really about a film director. It is about the man underneath/behind those things.
Harkening back to a comment I believe I brought up on this blog (or at least brought up to some of the faithful readers), there are books you look at for plot… and ones you look at for language (and the rare books that combine the two). This is a book you should look at for language. It has a nominal plot – and, let me say, the twists at the end are somewhat predictable considering how widespread the novels/plays/films I mentioned earlier and their various twists have become, but that doesn’t mean the twists in Money are less jarring. In fact, the last one – the last moment of the novel – bent my noggin. Seriously. But anyway, that’s like a bonus. The real treat to this book is the language. They say that Martin Amis has a very distinctive style (Kingsley Amis’ son, I would guess its in his blood) but I’d never really experienced that because I’d never really had the urge to pick up one of his novels til now. (Note: only picked this one up because of the super-cool Penguin Inks cover by Bert Krak)
His dialogue is layered with allusions and references – not to the point of Nabokovian excess, but there are some fun little wordplays and things. My favorite might be John’s car, the Fiasco, and its repeated appearances in the text – and how it goes from being this wonderful amazing zip of a car to a piece of rubbish abandoned on the roadside… but you realize that perhaps it was never the former in the first place.
The descriptive dialogue is impressive. Chock full of adjectives, allusions, metaphors, etc. This is a writer who celebrates words. Actually, this is sometimes the one drawback of this book – there are moments where (on purpose) Amis gets you lost. That was frustrating but then John Self is right there talking directly to you, the reader, and reassuring you and bringing you further on into the novel.
My one true itch with the novel was the italicised “epilogue” – though not the final moment itself, which I loved. It just seemed strange and tonally out-of-place. I suppose it fits, in light of that last moment, but it is rather disconcerting having just spent 350 pages with smug disgusting bastard John Self to suddenly find a much less-those-things John.
Rating: 5+ out of 5. This book is the heir to Nabokov’s Lolita as Ellis’ American Psycho is the heir to this book. The twisting nature of the protagonist, the author’s love affair with the English language, the narrator who revolts you but who you also can’t stay away from. It’s all there – and it is all so beautifully written that you can find yourself almost hypnotized by the prose. What this book says about humanity is crucial – and it says it so damn well, you don’t care how indicting it is.