Top positive review
69 people found this helpful
on May 20, 2003
This seems to be a novel people tend to either love or hate, and it's not hard to see why. First of all, it is awfully long-and for such a long book, not a lot happens, which is bound to upset some people. Essentially, you have the tale of a not-so-romantic triangle comprised of Nicola Six (messed up psychic sexpot), Guy Clinch (posh, married, naive, and weak-willed), and Keith Talent (underclass wide-boy, schemer, on-the-fiddle, racist, sexist, alcoholic, generally scummy pub denizen), told by a dying American writer in London. Nicola has foreseen her murder at the hand of one of these characters, and thus she directs her own demise by luring them into her tangled web of self-destruction. It's entirely predictable (yes, even the "twist" at the end), but one reads Amis for the journey, not the destination.
The tale is set at the end of the millennium, with some vague catastrophe threatening the world, so it's safe to believe that the trio's story has some larger meaning. The west London of this book is a pretty nasty immoral place, where carpe diem means grab what you want and screw everyone else. As the physical world of the book obliquely slides toward disaster, the moral landscape is already destroyed. The protagonists themselves are stereotypes, the two men representing the opposite ends of the social spectrum, and the most recognizable "type" of modern British male: upper-crust wimp, lower-class lout. Nicola Six exists solely to satirize, and thus subvert, their sexual fantasies with her psychosexual games. Amis appears to be painting a larger picture about British enrapturement with... well, it's not clear precisely what Nicola represents. Capitalism? America? Or just the dreams and fantasies that have led the country astray? And clearly there's some sort of point being made by having Guy's baby be a monster, and Keith's be an angel, right?
Overarching metaphors aside, Amis can write the hell out of sentence, and there's plenty of awfully good description and dialogue here-especially when it comes to wide-boy Keith. There are large swathes of the book devoted to darts, and Amis makes it come alive. Some of this is devastatingly funny amidst the overall dark and bleak tone. My own favorite line is about scratches on Guy's face that (and this is not verbatim, but give's the gist): "made him look like a determined, but inept rapist"). Ultimately the book is too long, and the broad main characters and interjecting author get rather tedious. Still, it's a major work of modern British literature and merits a look if you're into that stuff.