Magazine Cultura

"London Fields" by Martin Amis

Creato il 25 gennaio 2011 da Memole

Year of first publication: 1989
Genre: novel
Country: UK
Sometimes you say of a writer that he is “self-restrained”, meaning that he is able to control his characters, gently allowing emotions to pass only to the right extent. Martin Amis is the exact opposite: he lets his characters wander through his novel, ramble on and screw up everything they do (or maybe it’s just our existence that is just so screwed up!). Yet Amis manages to keep the book structure in its place.
“London Fields” is the story of a murder where we already know who’s the murderer and who’s the murderee (the reference to D.H. Lawrence’s “Women in Love” is deliberate). We just have to find out how (and why, possibly) it will happen. The “actors” are three Londoners – Keith, Nicola and Guy – plus the narrator, an American writer who swapped his New York apartment with an English playwright and is now trying to write a novel based on the aforementioned threesome.
Keith and Guy couldn’t be more different and yet they go to the same pub in Portobello Road: the Black Cross. They belong to different social classes, but don’t think for a moment that the portrayal of the working class and the chattering classes is balanced in Amis’s writing. His characters are grotesque caricatures of Londoners at the end of the 20th century: he’s cruel with his characters, in a Nabokovian way that is not hard to spot (Amis is in fact a fan).
Keith Talent is a working class man who pays his bills by “cheating”, that is to say by petty crimes. Only, he really doesn’t pay his bills because all the money goes to the bets. He is ambitious nonetheless: he thinks he can become a professional dart player. He spends his days reading tabloids, drinking pints and pints of beer and fucking every girl in sight. Guy Clinch is ‘the fool, the foal, the foil’. He is from the opposite side of the social ladder (he’s upper middle-class) and has earned his money with dirty tricks, yet he is ingenuous regarding women. He gets duped by Nicola, a femme fatale and a former stripper who is disillusioned by life and knows she will get killed by the end of the book. Nicola Six (savour the details, Nabokov would say) is a male fantasy figure and the author admits this in a exquisite post-modern way, by making his character discuss it in a conversation with Guy. The title evokes a pastoral landscape, when in fact London Fields is just a city park in East London. The reference is not randomly put there: Keith, Guy and Nicola live in a claustrophobic city, almost on the verge of collapsing into what looks like climate change (except the book was written in 1989). I perceive this novel as quintessentially English, a symposium on Londonness, so to say. London (maybe England altogether) has no soul anymore, it is incapable of love. Ultimately the whole novel is about the process of writing (or not writing) in a labyrinth of intertextualities. “London Fields” has no moral, only an aesthetic intent. Very Nabokovian, again.
Martin Amis has a unique style: ‘the Amis-ness of Amis will be recognisable in any piece before he reaches his first full stop’, they say of him. The rhythm of his prose, his witty remarks, his hyperbolic characters have made him one of the greatest living authors in Britain. Like many other star writers, he is also highly controversial. For instance, this book was omitted from the Booker Prize shortlist because of its alleged misogyny. Nicola, in fact, is basically a nymphomaniac, who plays the virgin with Guy and the whore with Keith, turning men around her fingers as she pleases. Amis writes a lot about sex, merely from a male perspective. Personally I find his characters just too sardonic, too exaggerated and ridiculous to be realistic, that’s why the misogyny thesis doesn’t hold for me. Nicola is mainly thought as a metaphor for this utterly materialistic, self-destructive age we live in, where love just has no place.
The idiosyncrasies of the author - the global Crisis, for once (which is mysteriously linked to the First Lady’s ill-health), but also nuclear bombs and terrible toddlers - enhance the feeling that Martin Amis wanted to give us an example of fiction (and life) at the end of the 20th century: inexplicably complex and doomed to self-destruction.

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