Revenger's tragedy, comedy of errors, contemporary satire, Martin Amis's controversial number one hardcover bestseller is a return to the territory of Money and London Fields. How can one writer hurt another where it really counts -- his reputation? This is the problem facing novelist Richard Tull, contemplating the success of his friend and rival Gwyn Barry. Revenger's tragedy, comedy of errors, contemporary satire, The Information skewers high life and low in Martin Amis's brilliant return to the territory of Money and London Fields.
Well, that's at least what I said to myself 50 pages in.
Amis thank you.
Otherwise this entertaining novel appears to have been dragged out of the ink well on a sitting by sitting basis and on the premise of never deleting anything. Half finished sentences are sculpted into patterns. Unfinished thoughts are retrospectively branded as having belonged to the principal character. Entire paragraphs are composed of strings of nouns. Indeed the author's greatest skill appears to be creating something from nothing.
Finally, the nothings outweigh the somethings. The entertainment outweighs the aesthetic. Too much detail is lost buried in obscure passages, and the denouement sags like a untied sack of potatoes.
The Information itself deals with the relationship between a pair of British writers of fiction. One, a spectacularly successful purveyor of "airport novels," is envied by his friend, an equally unsuccessful writer of philosophical and generally abstruse prose. The novel is written in the author's classic style: characters appearing as stereotyped caricatures, grotesque elaborations on the wickedness of middle age, and a general air of post-apocalyptic malaise.
Amis's novels are somewhat an acquired taste and his claim to be influenced by Jane Austen seems to have dissipated by the appearance of this and later novels. On the other hand perhaps not, with a fascination for words and contemporary relationships Amis's style may mirror our current world in a way not that different from Austen in her world.
Despite all this, "The Information" doesn't strike me as a particularly deep or meaningful novel; I halfway suspect that Amis wrote it in order to vent his frustration with the publishing industry. And publishing, is, after, all, this novel's real subject. If one of the characteristics of great novels is that they make an attempt to define the limits and purpose of literature, "The Information" flunks that test completely. Even though just about everyone we meet works in the book trade, nobody seems to give literature, defined as an art form, a moment's thought. Richard, the failed novelist of the pair, is a book reviewer and sometime editor; Gwynn spends his days going to book-related interviews and photoshoots. I don't get the sense, though, that either one of them has an ounce of literary talent between them. Amis himself would probably call this criticism ridiculous. He isn't a high modernist and isn't trying to be one. Why bother with these value distinctions? Still, this stylistic choice makes his characters appear a little static. "The Information" is, after all, dealing with envy, a literary subject that's yielded a lot of good fruit in the past, but I don't get a sense that this emotion provokes any significant internal change in either of our protagonists during the course of the events described in the novel. Richard and Gwynn start off, respectively as a somewhat bitter and caustically funny former novelist and an ingratiating multimillionaire fraud, and they more or less end up that way, too. This isn't to say I didn't enjoy this book; I did, and wish I could write half as well as Amis does. Still, I can't understand why Saul Bellow, of all people, compares him to Joyce and Flaubet on my copy's back flap. Call me old-fashioned, but I'm hoping that "The Information" isn't the future of writing, or even book publishing.