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House of Meetings (Vintage International) Paperback – January 8, 2008

3.8 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

House of Meetings Is an Amazon Significant Seven selection for March 2007

With The House of Meetings, Martin Amis may finally have written the novel his critics thought would never come. By taming his signature (and polarizing) stylistic high-wire act, Amis has crafted a sober tale of love and cynicism against the grim curtain of Stalin's Russia. The book's anonymous narrator--a Red Army veteran and unapologetic war criminal--and his passive, poetic half-brother, Lev, become pinned in a politically dangerous love triangle with the exotic Zoya, though their tactics (and intentions) are as divergent as their personalities. Swept up in the wave of Stalin's paranoid purges, the brothers are sent independently to Norlag, a Siberian internment camp where their respective fates are cast through their contrasting reactions to the depravity of the prison. Zoya and Lev share a night in "The House of Meetings," a room provided for conjugal visits with the prisoners, and the events of that night reverberate through the decades, the details of the liaison remaining concealed until the story's devastating denouement.

Amis's main achievement is his depiction of the cruel realities of the Soviet gulags. Drawing heavily on his research for Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million, his half-history/half-memoir of political imprisonment and industrial-scale killing in Soviet Russia, Amis has created his own Animal Farm--without metaphors to mask the blood, filth, and death of the camps. Amis vividly recreates the social structure of gulag life, as the inmates and guards sort themselves into distinct hierarchies and stations in their struggles to survive the rigors of the gulag. Here The House of Meetings may accomplish what Amis had intended for the unfocused Koba: to cast a searing light on an often overlooked episode of 20th century inhumanity and mass murder. --Jon Foro

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

A unnamed former gulag inmate in Amis's disappointing latest is now a rich, 84-year-old expatriate Russian taking a tour of the former gulags in 2004. The narrator chronicles his current and past experiences in a book-length letter to his American "stepdaughter," Venus. Wry remarks on contemporary Russia and the U.S. run up against gulag reminiscences, which tell of the years 1948 through 1956, when the narrator and his brother Lev suffered in the Norlag concentration camp. The letter contains another letter, from the dying Lev, dated 1982, which was the year Lev's son Artem died in Afghanistan. Lev's first wife—and the narrator's first love—was Zoya, a Jewish Russian beauty who by 1982 was an alcoholic married to a Soviet apparatchik. The narrator's own feeling of debasement, when, after Lev's death, he finally meets Zoya again in Norlag's conjugal cabin (the House of Meetings), is complicated to the point of impaction. Amis's trademark riffs are all too muffled in his obvious research. And Venus, the narrator's supposedly beloved stepdaughter, is such a negative space filled with trite clichés about affluent young Americans, and such irritating second guesses about her reactions, that it lends a distinctly bullying tone to the book. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More from Martin Amis
At once poetic and cynical, bestselling novelist Martin Amis is known for his unflinching critiques of modern life. Visit Amazon's Martin Amis Page.

Product Details

  • Series: Vintage International
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (January 8, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400096014
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400096015
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,510,334 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Amis is a fine writer, and I think he lets his skill get in the way of his book. If he had been more concerned with writing a good book than writing well, it might have been better. House of Meetings contains much gripping material, especially in the first half that focuses on life in the Gulag, but I found the characters not too credible.

The material about life in the camps is harrowing, and Amis' skill is well used here. His phrase about the cold "grabbing you and frisking you," will stay with me through all my thoughts and reading about the Gulag. His passages about erotic and violent encounters can pack quite a wallop, no question. But I found the characters in the love triangle to be rather too familiar, and I really couldn't muster much interest in how their lives would turn out. The narrator talks like a, well, like a litterateur...how did he get that way after such a brutal life? No clue. His brother, a man of iron principles...why? No clue. The love interest, a Venus of Wittemberg type, all earth, sex, sensuality. (And it's all written to his step daughter, Venus, a typical American girl - the irony is a bit too thick.)

The sentences in the book can be marvelous, the descriptions haunting, but they don't seem like the sort of thing that would come out of the character who's telling the story. They seem more like Amis trying to sound like an intellectual Gulag survivor. Not bad, but once they get out of the camp, not too compelling. The plot is supposed to be tragic and weirdly contorted, but it just seems contrived to me. Would anyone really talk about their lives as these people do?
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Format: Hardcover
I've been a big fan of Martin Amis' work since I discovered "Money", which forced me to devour all his previous and subsequent books. And I have read with dread fascination a lot of the history of the Soviet Union, including many of the books used by Amis to prepare "House of Meetings" and the great earlier historical essay Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million Amis is a natural with the English language; it's like watching Steve Young throw touchdowns. His earlier, darkly comic novels were a lot of nasty fun, but he went through something of a slump in the last decade. It seemed he was searching for larger tragic themes for his fiction. He may have found them. I think "House of Meetings" is his best book since "London Fields" and may just be his finest book yet. It's like one of those massive Russian novels compacted into a brisk 240 pages; imagine Dostoevsky crossed with Nabokov. In "House of Meetings" he is able to combine a harrowing historical novel about Soviet Russia and serve his own preoccupations with black comedy, human destructiveness, and tragedy. It's a novel about the cruelties of ideology and the annihilating power of twisted sexual obsession.

This is a very rare novel by a major Western writer about the Gulag; perhaps it will begin to correct the increasingly embarrassing absence of attention this subject has gotten from Western literary intellectuals. The basic triangular situation of the characters is a familiar Amis situation, but one he has adapted to the tortured history of the times.
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Format: Hardcover
If you're a fan of Martin Amis' writing, then you probably know what you'll get here. First-rate prose, sharp psychological insights, and devastating (and funny) commentary on life and humanity that strikes some readers as cold and clinical, but is in fact quite compassionate and at times even poignant.

As an essayist and reviewer, Amis is unmatched--his talents are perfectly suited to those forms. And his novels are great reading as well: both profound and enjoyable. Yet House of Meetings shares the one significant flaw that marks all the Amis novels I've read (and which another reviewer here touches on): his characters inevitably speak (or in this case, write) like Martin Amis the essayist. And just like the mismatched half-brothers of Success, the half-brothers who meet again in a Soviet gulag in House of Meetings regularly make Amis-like insights on their lives and the people they know. That one flaw in Amis' fiction doesn't stop me from enjoying, or recommending, his novels, including this one. The author's wit and insight and the quality of the writing more than pay back your reading time, flaws and all.
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Format: Hardcover
Fans of Martin Amis will recognize a narrative dynamic in HOUSE OF MEETINGS. This is fraternal competition, which manifests in the novels SUCCESS, MONEY, and THE INFORMATION as the hilarious but sad interplay between dependent men.

But in HOUSE OF MEETINGS, Mart gives his fans a twist. This time, he takes this same dynamic and imagines its expression between two brothers in Soviet Russia, the older a soldier brutalized by his experiences in World War II. In HOUSE OF MEETINGS, Mart explores how this dynamic, which drove the lives of his characters in 1980's London and New York, would withstand years of slave labor in Stalin's Gulag.

One Amazon.co.uk wag (the review has disappeared) called this book ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF MARTIN AMISOVITCH. Mart's fans who read HOUSE OF MEETINGS will see this comment is spot-on, since this novel explores such familiar Amis themes as male competition, loveless sex, retribution, and bad teeth, this time in heavy-handed Soviet society. It's fascinating stuff and the writing, especially in the first and last sections, is brilliant.

One word of warning: The experience of reading this book is similar to reading EVERYMAN, the latest from Philip Roth. I'd call each novel a short and mesmerizing page turner. But neither book is happy reading, even with the guilt plagued narrator of HOUSE OF MEETINGS finally earning profound but ironic praise from his younger brother.
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