The murderee is Nicola Six, a "black hole" of sex and self-loathing who is intent on orchestrating her own extinction. The murderer may be Keith Talent, a violent lowlife whose only passions are pornography and darts; or the rich, honorable, and dimly romantic Guy Clinch. As Nicola leads her suitors towards the precipice, London-and, indeed, the whole world-seems to shamble after them in a corrosively funny novel of complexity and morality.
Initially, there is plenty to like. The narrator – a failed American writer on a house-swap in London – has an engaging line in self-doubt, a brooding sense of millennial disaster, and a neat turn of phrase. The traffic-clogged, grimy streets of London, its monotonous weather and its sweaty pubs, are perfectly evoked and give the whole novel a very effective tone of edginess, latent violence, and even what comes to feel like looming apocalypse. The plot focuses on a girl with the delightful name of Nicola Six, who, thanks to a kind of second sight, knows that she will be murdered on the night of her thirty-fifth birthday; she also knows who will do it, and, in many ways, she positively wants it to happen.
The narrator has been asked by Nicola to tell her story – and he throws himself into it with gusto, developing close relationships with her and with the putative murderer, Keith Talent, and the foil, Guy Clinch. Keith, a petty criminal and amateur darts player, is a fantastic and original character, and the book lifts to a higher level every time he's on the page. With his chain-smoking, his string of girlfriends, the long-suffering wife, and his general lager-and-sports demeanour, he can seem a bit of a type. But there's something so pleasurable about how perfectly Amis has skewered the type that it doesn't seem like a problem. His dialogue in particular is a joy, no more so than when he and his friends are discussing darts, in an endless stream of pundit's clichés:
‘You can't argue with finishing of that quality. No way.’
‘It was a stern test,’ said Thelonius deliberately, ‘of your darting character.’
Bogdan said, ‘You responded to the – to the big-match atmosphere.’
‘The choice of venue could have posed problems to a lesser player,’ said Dean. ‘You fended off the. . .’
‘You disposed of the. . .’
‘Challenge of the. . .’
‘Brixton left-hander,’ said Thelonius with a sigh.
It is the more impressive that Amis does not allow you to regard Keith simply as comic relief; he is also behind most of the disgust and anger that the reader feels. He's a nasty piece of work – a wife-beater, pornographer, and statutary rapist who makes regular trips to a fifteen-year-old prostitute.
Perhaps this is the first clue to a pervasive hatred that underlies much of Amis's writing. It shows itself in a constant low-level intolerance, sometimes in the form of bizarrely xenophobic outbreaks about "the blacks silent with unreadable hungers", and on one occasion the comment that "black people are better at fighting than white people, because, among other reasons, they all do it". How much of this is Amis and how much his narrator is, of course, difficult to say.
It all crystallises in the character of Nicola. I found her really the most pitiful example of what literary theorists like to call the "male gaze" that I've ever come across. Young, beautiful, sexually irresistible, she is described in long voyeuristic and faintly implausible passages in which she evaluates herself as a sex object:
she stood naked in the middle of the warm room. Her mouth was full, and unusually wide. Her mother had always said it was a whore's mouth. It seemed to have an extra half-inch at either wing, like the mouth of the clowngirl in pornography.
Nicola prowls about this novel like a embarrassing fantasy of Amis's, endlessly peeling off pairs of stockings, mulling over what kind of underwear to put on, having long contemplative baths, or thinking about masturbation. And by the way, Martin, you can't just get out of it by including an exchange like this one:
‘I'm worried they're going to say you're a male fantasy figure.’
‘I am a male fantasy figure. [...] You should see me in bed. I do all the gimmicks men read up on in the magazines and the hot books.’
Ah yes the sex. Nicola, you are unsurprised to learn at this point, is a bit of a goer. And wouldn't you know it, what she particularly likes is to take it up the arse.
Sodomy pained Nicola, but not literally; it was its local prevalence, as it were, that pained her so greatly. It was the only thing about herself that she couldn't understand and wouldn't forgive. [...] No, not everybody did it. But Nicola did it. At a certain point (and she always vowed she wouldn't, and always knew she would) Nicola tended to redirect her lover's thrusts, down there in the binary system. . . .
I'm not saying that no women are like this. I'm just saying that Martin Amis offers the least convincing portrait of one that I've ever seen. The sex, and the dark sexual secrets, are just one aspect of what starts to seem like a frightened fascination with women in general. When Nicola is sure of something, she feels it "in her tits". We follow her into the toilet; whole scenes revolve around her urinating, menstruating, or in some other way secreting something which makes Martin Amis uncomfortable.
And when she appeared at the top of the stairs – the white dressing-gown, the hair aslant over the unpainted face – I fielded the brutal thought that she'd just had fifteen lovers all at once, or fifteen periods.
What does this seem like, if not fear and ignorance? It's a big problem, because Nicola is so pivotal to the plot and such a central character in the book. For the novel to work, you have to accept her, and understand her – that she wants to die, that she is spending so much time deliberately facilitating her own murder. But why? There is no real reason offered except for a general apocalyptic atmosphere and a few melancholy comments about how she feels that she's "come to the end of men". It's not enough.
There is a playful twist at the end, and a sort of satisfaction in how things are resolved. But I was left with a lasting irritation at how flimsy the plot was, which got in the way of my enjoyment at Keith and some of Amis's elegant sentences. Thinking back now, I still remember some wonderful passages. But I also still feel annoyed at how ridiculous Nicola was. The whole novel had the disconcerting air of being a great book, written by a twat.
Nicola has the ability to see into the future and has forseen her death by murder. However, she doesn't know who the murderer will be. She proceeds to make a search to see if she can discover the killer's identity so she can stop them.
Her search centers on Keith Talent, a conniving cheat who is a dart enthusiast. He feels he could be on a dart challange on TV and earn money.
The other choice for Nicola's possible murderer is Guy Clinch, a wealthy man who seems somewhat naive and could be manipulated.
Guy enters the Blue Cross pub where Keith is the dart champ and resident loudmouth. Keith welcomes him and the two become friends with Nicola. Guy is a shy person and the action in the pub amazes him.
The story is narrated by Samson Young, an American writer.
There is little action and lots of talk and introspection in the novel. "London Fields" was highly acclaimed and is said to be humorous but it did not appeal to me.
So what do I like so much? I like the language - those teeth Amis put in his mouth by way of his wallet surely gleam down on his typewriter. I like the fastforward/rewind method of intertwining the stories. I like the ending - so much, it hurt.
I just did not get it. I didn't care what happened to any of the characters or what they did. (I don't mind unpleasant characters but I have to feel some sort of at least tenuous connection with them). I worked out who the murderer actually was long before the end of the novel (Keith was far too obvious a choice) and being proved correct was probably all that kept me plodding on.
The book is a complete bag of oxymorons. The tale is set in inner city London well away from any fields, Samson Young, the narrator, maybe young but is weak and dying, Keith Talent is bereft of any talent, and that is but a few. But perhaps the biggest 'moron' is whoever decided that this should be put this on the 1001 list.
Set in London in presumably 1999 (the year is never actually stated but the Millennium is mentioned on several occasions) London Fields is supposedly a darkly comic interpretation of the triviality of Western civilization through the lives of four characters who come from different classes of English society.
Samson Young, a young but dying American writer visiting London, is writing his first novel but he lacks the imagination necessary to create fiction so he observes his acquintances and incorporating them into his novel. Nicola Six, is bored with life and all that it entails, has selected Keith Talent, a small-time racketeer to be her murderer at the same time luring Guy Clinch, a wealthy but unhappily married man, into her web of deceit.
Keith is married with a young daughter but commits adultery pretty well every day with his various lovers, none of whom he regards as anything other than playthings and sees them as somehow sub-human. He only cares for darts and the hope that it will give him an openning into the world of television and thus wealth. Keith cares for no one but himself. In contrast Guy Clinch longs for love, any kind of love, a love that he fails to get from Hope, his wife; Lizzyboo, her sister; or Marmaduke, his infant son. His restlessness leads him into an unlikely friendship with Keith. Guy thinks that he has found the means with which to fill the emptiness of his life when he meets and falls in love with Nicola. Guy is basically a good person. He is obedient, industrious, and uncomplaining until Nicola comes along. However, Guy is also gullible and believes Nicola when she tells him that she is a thirty-four-year-old virgin.
Most of the events in the novel are a result of Nicola’s machinations and by the end of the book I knew exactly how Nicola felt and I too had almost decided to give up the will to live.
It makes me angry, because it's been my first Martin Amis, and I can't help but admit that he's one of the best authors I've encountered for some time, as in "ooooh, this paragraph is so literary, and this one, and this one". But he keeps using that talent to go over the same things over and over again, and you end up frustrated, because you already understand everybody's motives and you have for the last 200 pages, and you just want the story to freakin' move FORWARD.
Martin Amis is an awesome writer in each and every isolated paragraph. But on the whole, it just didn't work for me.
Nicola Six wants to die, so that would make the book (like Money) another suicide note. Only, she isn't the narrator, and Martin Amis is away on a Sabbatical in the States. Another writer (a Yank) squats in his pad and tells the tale of how she does it for her. There's a pub, called the Jesus Christ, a sort of soap-opera setting for the characters to meet in - or brush shoulders. There is dart playing, there is money, there is sex (with videos but not porn) and there is literature. Or something of the sort. But as to who will do the deed (i.e. bump the poor thing off) the book doesn't keep you guessing, more like groaning. If you haven't thrown it against the wall by page 400 you might just finish it. And then again you might not.
PS, I liked the nuked spuds.
This book was published in 1989 and is set in the future. This woman, Nicola Six, has picked November 5th as the day she will die. So we have an American author dying and we have Nocola who is going to die because she does not want to get any older, she is turning 35. "It doesn't happen yet, but it will".
There is really so much in this book. Samson Young is the narrator. He emphasizes that he is a "reliable narrator". Samson Young is a writer of nonfiction and can't seem to write fiction so he starts writing about these people from their real life; Nicola Six, Keith Talent, a criminal, dart player, Guy Cinch a rich banker, Marmaduke the rich banker's son, Mark Asprey (a successful British author). Samsonb uses Nicola's diaries, Guys short story, Keith darting diaries. Mark Asprey may be a play on words for the author Martin Amis and true life memoirs.
In this book, which in my opinion is about writing, we have the question of accuracy; reliable narrators, memoirs, tabloids, gossip columns, weather forcasters, etc. We have the TV with its fast forward, freeze frame and confusing realities.
As I said, there is really a lot here, even with the descriptions of darts and shafts, etc, etc, the word play, the theme of dying and writing block. There is also a theme of end times with mentions of Enola Gay and Baby Boy both alluding to nuclear weapons/holocaust. The American president's wife (Faith) is fighting for her life. So there is the dying of the individual as well as the dying of the world. There is the mockery of Keith's culture of cheap tabloids set against the high literary culture of Guy.
It's all very creative and well done but in the end, did I enjoy it? Can't say that I did. Did I appreciate it? I do appreciate the work and talent of this book. I've also read the authors Time's Arrow and Dead Babies.
5-Legacy: This book does fit the scope of books of the era. It does contribute to the novel.
5-Plot: actually at times dull but very creative
4-Characterization: some very unique characters representing life
2-Readability: not so enjoyable
4-Achievement: some important lists
2-Style: a whole lot of violence, not very favorable image of women, sex
I wanted to finish it.
It is 470 pages of nonsense.
I didn't like the characters totally unbelievable.
So glad its over.
I gave it half a star because I liked the cover.
As for me, this was by turns a book I enjoyed and one that seemed not worth spit.