Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Money by Martin Amis

As I walked home through streets the colour of oyster and carbon the air suddenly shivered and shook its coat, like a wet dog, like the surface of worried water. I paused--we all did--and lifted my face to the sky, as a slave or animal might lift its face, fearing punishment but risking it anyway... 'Okay. Show me something,' I said, and wiped my face with my hand. Up in the clear distance basked a hollow pink cloud, a rosy cusp fastened by tendrils at either end, like a vertical eye, a vertical mouth. In its core lay a creaturely essence, meticulous, feminine... Wait... the rose, the mouth, the glint. Come on, if that is what it looked like then that is what it looked like. I am probably not alone in supposing that I am shaped by how I see things. And that cloud up there certainly looked like a pussy to me.

I feel like I haven't been plugging away at this like I should, what with my new job and all, but I see the rest of you have been carrying on nicely reading childrens' books and stuff about railroads that probably isn't even interesting to the people who write it.

Money is the story of John Self, a commercial director and a man who is admittedly "addicted to the twentieth century." He drinks, he devours fast food, he patronizes porno parlours like he has nowhere else to go. He's not an artless figure--in fact, he's just been given the opportunity by a producer named Fielding Goodney to direct a motion picture of Self's own invention, called Bad Money or Good Money. Self spends, consumes, and then spends and consumes some more, satisfying his own urges while trying to wrangle a script from a writer who hates him and four movie stars who all have their own ideas about where the movie should go. In the meantime, he has to deal with his probably unfaithful girlfriend, Selina, and a man who calls himself Frank who's been calling him on the telephone and threatening him, and seems to know everything that he does. Other than Self, the main victim of this satire is commercialism and consumerism, and one of the best recurring patterns is the names that the author gives to various products: you can go to a fast food restaurant called Blastfurters, for example, and get an American Way; the cars they drive are called things like Fiasco and Autocrat.

This book is hilarious, obscene, and moving, no small feat. I recently read an article that lamented how serious our literature has become, and Money was the example they used: a brilliant dark comedy that was overlooked for most major awards, but stands as a paragon of what comedy can achieve. Certainly, the man had a point; as a comedy Money does what a serious book could not: make Self into a sympathetic character. Disgusting as he is, when Self's world begins to collapse--the result of a scheme that the author leaves cleverly hidden until the very end--it's impossible not to feel for him. We want Self to overcome the vices of sex and money that control him, and when his efforts fail his humiliation is very convincing.

Interestingly, the author, Martin Amis, writes himself into the book as the man whom Self asks to rewrite the script when the original turns out to be a disastrous. This is pretty risky; how do you present yourself in your own book without seeming vain? But somehow Amis pulls it off--in part because Self has a lot of contempt for the Martin of the novel.

Anyway, this book is pretty good. Four stars. Two thumbs up. Recommended.


Carlton said...

This book sounds too interesting for me.

Nihil Novum said...

Cheesecake is pretty good.

Alyson said...

It's really disturbing to me that the character's name is "Self."

Nathan said...

Chris, you are the glue that holds us together.

This sounds like a really good book. Good review.