This isn’t a review. I wouldn’t be so cheeky. I just wanted to get down some thoughts on Money, before my memory of reading it evaporates (for my own benefit and for the edification of the two or three people who read this blog).
This was my first Martin Amis novel (yes, I know, I’m rather late to the party) and it seemed to me to be a masterclass of ‘voice’. I’ve said before that I’m a dabbler in fiction writing and find voice difficult to get to grips with. (To be honest, as my characters are based on me, they all have my voice!). However, John Self, the main protagonist of Money, is clearly nothing like Martin Amis. I’ve seen Amis on TV and he is erudite and intellectual, where John Self is not. In fact, in a metafictional flourish, Martin Amis actually appears in this novel as himself.
So that’s interesting. What is also interesting in Money, especially if you happen to spend a great deal of time thinking about cities, are the locations: London and New York. I’ve never been to New York, and in any case, John Self hangs out in the seedier parts of the city that I’d probably avoid, with their ‘singles bars’, brothels and porn emporiums. I once read a piece, written by Christopher Hitchens, about visiting a brothel with Amis, which was probably research for this novel. Anyway, it doesn’t matter that I’ve never been there, as this novel is set in 1981, which no longer exists.
London in the novel is grey, like ‘washing up water’, and we experience it filtered through the eyes of a money and pornography obsessed slob, which is funnier than it sounds. It is a satire on the greedy 1980s, so all of the excesses that you might associate with that decade, are given a comic twist by Amis, and end up in the arena of Rabelaisian grotesque.
Los Angeles also makes a brief appearance in Money, in the memory of John Self, and from a psychogeographical point of view it’s a highlight of the novel. I have been to LA and couldn’t wait to leave. As someone who can’t drive, and has to walk everywhere, it’s tantamount to purgatory. John Self sums it up beautifully:
In LA, you can’t do anything unless you drive. Now I can’t do anything unless I drink. And the drink-drive combination, it really isn’t possible out there. If you so much as loosen your seatbelt or drop your ash or pick your nose, then it’s an Alcatraz autopsy with the questions asked later. Any indiscipline, you feel, any variation, and there’s a bullhorn, a set of scope sights, and a coptered pig drawing a bead on your rug.
So what can a poor boy do? You come out of the hotel, the Vraimont. Over boiling Watts the downtown skyline carries a smear of God’s green snot. You walk left, you walk right, you are a bank rat on a busy river. This restaurant serves no drink, this one serves no meat, this one serves no heterosexuals. You can get your chimp shampooed, you can get your dick tattooed, twenty-four hour, but can you get lunch? And should you see a sign on the far side of the street flashing BEEF-BOOZE – NO STRINGS, then you can forget it. The only way to get across the road is to be born there. All the ped-xing signs say DON’T WALK, all of them, all the time. That is the message, the content of Los Angeles: don’t walk. Stay inside. Don’t walk. Drive. Don’t walk. Run!