Monday, January 15, 2007


From Russia with love

Surprise, surprise: there's been a lively debate about the new Martin Amis novel. Some see House of Meetings as a return to form, others view it as merely the latest manifestation of the Soviet fetish that began with Koba the Dread. (Incidentally, I had forgotten that the beleaguered wife's name in Yellow Dog was Russia. Dissertation students, start your engines.) Anyway, here's my take on the novel, published in yesterday's Los Angeles Times Book Review. I began this way:
Every novelist nods. For Martin Amis, who's been able to write better than almost all of his peers since he was in bellbottoms, this dreaded moment came in 2003 with Yellow Dog. The book did garner some grudgingly positive notices. More prominent, though, was the slew of brickbats taking the author to task not so much for his prose--which still contained its share of glinting felicities--as for his clunky exploration of male rage and erotic violence. Nobody argued that these were inappropriate topics for a novel. What bothered many readers was the suggestion that every man was a rapist manqué, just waiting for a blow to the head to release his Inner Brute.

How did Amis respond? He's done what any stubborn, self-respecting novelist would do: He's written another novel about male rage and erotic violence. And this time, he's serious. House of Meetings is darker than its predecessor. Instead of ascribing his hero's poisonous impulses to a cerebral head trauma, the author has now latched onto a bigger, badder and more diffuse culprit. Yes, folks, we're talking about the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Here is the devil that made the narrator do some very nasty things.
You can read the rest here.

I like the bit where Mart has the cheek to take a crack at Nabokov for a queerly Anglo-Russian 'locution' in Lolita, ('he had the cheek of taking my photograph') Humbert's borrowed voice! Intertextual.
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