Thursday, June 17, 2010

360. The Information – Martin Amis

History: This book was published in 1995. The plot involves two forty-year-old novelists, Gwyn Barry (successful) and Richard Tull (not so). Amis has asserted that both characters are based (if they can be regarded as based on anybody) on himself. It is, says Amis, a book about "literary enmity".
Plot: Gwyn Barry and Richard Tull have been friends since they roomed together at university. Richard Tull was a promising writer with a seemingly bright future. However his career flags and he finds himself depressed writing book reviews for a small literary paper and running a vanity press. To his chagrin, Gwyn Barry - whose literary skills Tull holds in low esteem - has written a phenomenally successful novel and won a lucrative and respected literary prize. Barry begins to enjoy a rarified life whilst Tull toils away with his unsuccessful pursuits.
Tull, increasingly envious, begins to manufacture ways of bringing Barry down. Richard’s simmering hatred inspires him at first to play practical tricks on Gwyn; “harmless” pranks like seducing his wife or paying a poolhall thug to rough him up. Gradually Richard becomes an erupting volcano of rage, a literary Iago intent on ruining Gwyn’s reputation and, if possible, having him killed.
Fueling Richard’s fury is the wretched state of his own career. Once a reputable author, Richard now survives by reviewing interminable biographies on dead and largely forgotten subjects (such as The Mercutio of Lincoln’s Inn Fields: A Life of Thomas Betterton and AntiLatitudinarian: The Heretical Career of Francis Atterbury). He works for a little magazine called, appropriately, The Little Magazine. And his unfinished novel Untitled, which features a scene where five unreliable narrators have a conversation over crossed cellular phone lines while all walking through the same revolving door — got that? — gives everyone who dares to read it a crushing migraine headache. Richard becomes increasingly dissociated from his wife, his children, and his own soul as he broods obsessively on ways to get even with his "friend. Finally he decides that Gwyn is so cushioned by success and adulation that he is impervious to mere criticism; only bodily harm will do the trick, and so Scozzy, a professional criminal who embodies the terrifying forces of violence and chaos with which Richard has never before been confronted, enters the lives of the Tull family, and events move beyond Richard's control.
Gwyn, in the meantime, has become the biggest literary sensation since Charles Dickens on the strength of a book about a dozen people (one from each racial/ethnic group) stranded on an island where there is no war and no love.
These begin relatively innocently, attempts to cause Barry inconvenience. But later things become much more serious as Tull makes contact with violent men he later finds he cannot control. The Information takes us on a guided tour through the bars and alleyways of England where characters named Scozzie and Crash nurse on the breast of violence and intimidation; and then to the moneyed estates of the rich and famous, who engage in the same activities and call it culture.
Review: 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. Running through the book (indeed what "The Information" in question turns out to be) is the awareness of mortality and, relating to that, midlife crisis. In addition the book deals with ideas of success, failure and envy. Martin Amis’s The Information is a novel that’s glibly self-conscious about the entire literary publication process, and bitter as horseradish about it, too. It’s a novel that’s sure to offend, horrify, and amuse anyone that’s ever indulged in writing, book reviewing, editing, or publishing. Unfortunately, there’s a bit of Richard Tull hidden away somewhere inside Martin Amis. His novel can make you cackle with vicious glee on one page and then bore you to tears with a pretentious dissertation on the pointlessness of human endeavors the next. He takes his characters to task for their unendurable solipsism, but he pads The Information with long strings of narrative bombast written in the first person.
Opening Line: “Cities at night, I feel, contain men who cry in their sleep and then say Nothing.”
Closing Line: “And then there is the information, which is nothing; and comes at night.”
Quotes: “It was when the patch of shit appeared on the pilot’s cream rum that Richard knew for certain that all was not well.”
Rating: Difficult to follow, but dark entertaining wit.

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