by Martin Amis
Harmony Books, $24.00, 374 pp.
It's surprising that Martin Amis hasn't made many waves on this side of the Atlantic.
In England, the author's relatively minor difficulties, mental, dental and love-related, make the front page of Vogue magazine. At Oxford University, (where every other boy has a leather jacket and a pocket Wittgenstein, where every other haircut resemble's Bono's on the 1983 cover of the "War" album, and everyone pretends to scoff at success) Amis is a normal topic of discussion. I couldn't find a single person at Harvard who had even heard of him.
The former Oxford roaring boy is certainly a big name among the American literati, (securing an interview with him proved impossible) but he hasn't made the impression on popular culture that he has in Britain.
There certainly were a lot of people attending Amis' reading at Waterstone's Bookstore last Wednesday, but they were all, well, old people.
The few college students I saw must have been there to get an autograph from Will Self, who, apparently following a self-styled recovery plan, has stopped shooting heroin and started getting drunk at seven o'clock.
But I digress. Self, the opening act, recited quite beautifully from memory a morbid, witty short story called "Scale." Amis read from his latest novel, The Information, to much laughter and applause from the old people (and me).
Amis' latest novel is a scathing satire of the literary establishment that created him, or, at least, made him a big name. Though The Information is not as corrosively funny as some of its predecessors, (I'm thinking of London Fields in particular) it is terribly addictive, witty and engaging.
The Information centers around Richard Tull, a ridiculously obscure, soon-to-be ex-novelist. Richard is of that most quintessentially English brand of heroes: he is a loser. (In fact, the first installations of Amis' novel appeared in an issue of Granta magazine called "Losers.") To some extent, the author embodies, in Richard the stereotypical English hatred of success. His (anti) hero is an unmitigated failure whose humiliations Amis delights in recounting.
Richard is also a hopeless anachronism, still mired in the swamp of post modernism. (His latest novel has 16 unreliable narrators.) The guy still snorts coke. He doesn't know it's the nineties.
Richard's best friend and worst enemy is the daft, cheerful Gwyn Barry, whose glib utopian novel, Amelior, has rocketed to the top of the bestseller list. Stupid, shallow and immensely popular, Gwyn resembles Tod Friendly, the ex-Nazi from Amis' last novel, Time's Arrow. Of course, the public laps up Amelior, as Richard (who, as a soon-to-be-ex-novelist, has plenty of time on his hands) begins to plot revenge.
Luckily, Richard does have one fan, a psychopath named Steve Cousins (a.k.a "Scozz,") the only person in the world to have read and understood a Richard Tull novel. (He stole it from a hospital library where it was making the patients sicker.) Scozz, "a true professional, someone who hurts people in exchange for cash," agrees to help Richard "fuck Gwyn up."