London fields

by Martin Amis

Hardcover, 1989

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

New York : Harmony Books, c1989.

Description

A supreme femme fatale has been cursed with premonitions. She forsees her own murder, singles out the two most likely murderers, and attempts to make them pay in advance.

Media reviews

Martin Amis's 'London Fields' dissected by Carla Scura. It's set, of course, not in Hackney but in Notting Hill!
3 more
"London Fields" is a virtuoso depiction of a wild and lustful society. In an age of attenuated fiction, this is a large book of comic and satirical invention. Keith Talent represents Mr. Amis's best creation in the book - a grotesque who is nevertheless both surprisingly vivid and desperate. It is a portrait done in verbal glitter. [...] Nicola is a problem, though; she makes us yield to a sneaking suspicion that a misogynist lingers here somewhere. She is not truly satisfying as character or caricature. As a tale of nuclear warning, ''London Fields'' is unconvincing. It succeeds, however, as a picaresque novel rich in its effects.
In a prefatory note, Amis says he toyed with the idea of calling his book The Murderee. The coinage describes the dark lady of the novel, whose self- arranged annihilation strongly suggests one of the author's recurrent themes: the nuclear and toxic capacities of industrial nations to destroy life on earth. "Hard to love, when you're bracing yourself for impact" is the succinct way the narrator of London Fields puts this modern predicament. But not hard to laugh when slouching toward the millennium with Amis.
Nicola's king-sized deathwish ('Begging for it. Praying for it') is stated, never explained. Instead, Amis takes refuge in that familiar device for disowning authorial responsibility, the writer as a character. [...] Like his creation, Keith Talent, Amis's preoccupations are 'modern, modern, modern'; more than any other British writer of his generation he gets to grips with the postmodern condition.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Widsith
London Fields is a book with a plot so pointless it made me angry, and a cast of blatant stereotypes. It's distinguished by some flourishes of wonderful writing, and the presence of one character who is one of my favourite creations of modern British fiction.

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.
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LibraryThing member blake.rosser
I see why Amis appeals to a lot of folks, but ultimately it's not my style. This is a pretty sadistic story filled with sleazy characters and little morality. A nice twist at the end.
LibraryThing member mikedraper
Nicola Six is a woman who provides suxual favors for men. In fact, she's a dominatrix who has had men run from her apartment. Not finished with her thrills, she has been known to chase the men to their cars and attempt to block their escape by placing herself in front of their cars.

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.
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LibraryThing member soylentgreen23
My first Amis - I haven't read Amis Sr. yet, though I have long been encouraged to - and, when I read it, I thought it was perfect. I want to reread it, but I daren't - what if it wasn't as good as I thought?

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.… (more)
LibraryThing member jmoncton
This is not your typical murder mystery. From the beginning of the book, you know that Nicola Six will be the victim (aka murderee) and someone from a very limited cast of characters is going to commit the crime. You also know the date of the crime, but what makes this book so different is that it is all going to happen in the future and each page races you toward the conclusion. But more than a mystery, it's a commentary on the social system in Great Britain - a conflict between the wealthy, well-educated upper class and the dregs of society. Very interesting and kind of humorous in a very dark twisted way.… (more)
LibraryThing member MeganMcCarthyDoherty
I tried to like this book, but I found that I couldn't.
LibraryThing member beastiegirl
This is one of those novels you either love or hate. I loved it; it seemed so fresh and different. Its very self-conscious but for me the author gets away with it due to the wit. Much better than The Information, which i read afterwards with excitement and then couldn't finish.
LibraryThing member tawdryjones
My friend Liz turned me onto Martin Amis. I think he's a brilliant writer even if his subjects sometimes make my skin crawl. I'm a prude!
LibraryThing member Philip_Lee
Money was a fist full of cents better. Money was a touch thinner, too; a trifle more worked-out. Money was plotless, too, too, but the voice of John Self somehow carried you through to the end. This book, which treads pretty much the same ground (the dogshit streets of post-Thatcher London), does so with even less page-turning delight. Oh the page-turning is there, you still want your fix of those sentences... but by about half way through you're yawning and reaching for the switch.

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.
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LibraryThing member ecevans
blistering and humane at the very same time, Keith, the main character is as toxic as his wife and child are heartbreaking. The narrator is amazing and his dance with Nicola Six one of the most strange relationships in all literature. Amazing. Read it.
LibraryThing member kirstiecat
I read this a few weeks ago but was in my typical maelstrom of work and shooting shows and never had a chance to write about it. Ok, well, one thing that just really strikes me about the book more than anything is how vivid the characters are and if you like rich characterizations, this book is for you. I also think the story line has quite a few twists and that the book on the whole seems filled with hints of what I would call early experimental fiction characteristics. I'd be pretty surprised if Paul Auster wasn't a fan.… (more)
LibraryThing member Daftboy1
I didn't get on with this book at all.
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.
LibraryThing member alexrichman
I still can't quite tell whether I liked this or not. I loved the passing references to a global crisis, but didn't care for the main plot; Keith is a wonderfully grotesque creation, but is Amis too sympathetic to him? Are the other characters just cardboard cut-outs, a stupid toff and a sex bomb? Is the exploration of authorship interesting, or masturbatory? I'll see ... but I suspect that London Fields is a little too grimy to love.… (more)
LibraryThing member PilgrimJess
“And meanwhile time goes about its immemorial work of making everyone look and feel like shit.”

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.
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LibraryThing member HearTheWindSing
Martin Amis, you are such a tease!
LibraryThing member beabatllori
I'm a tad confused about this one. I really, really wanted to like it. The premise is awesome, the characters are complex and three-dimensional, the writing is top-notch. But somehow it manages to be unbearably slow too.
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.
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London fields by Martin Amis (Paper Book)
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