Book Review on Martin Amis' London Fields

Martin Amis’ book, London Fields, set in the 1990s and written in the 1980s is a tour de force. Set in Amis’ home town London, it traverses class, wealth, status and profession, as the femme fatale Nicola Six, manipulates the men in the story.

Something of a soothsayer, Nicola has predicted her death will find her, upon her turning thirty.

The narrator tells us this at the outset of the novel and describes how the story is about a murderee; this murderee is Nicola. The three men with whom Nicola flirts and engages in affairs are the likely suspects, for murder, and the story progresses as a whodunnit, combined with why they might have done it! A further twist, adding to the complexity of the story and its structure, is that the narrator himself is a character within it. A troubled writer, who is terminally ill, he outlines that this real life story, is a gift that he has been given to record. His long-term writer’s block is solved.

As a character Nicola is an enigma, taking on mulitple roles and personalities. To Guy, a hapless millionaire, she plays the role of virginal victim. She wins his heart and eventually they have sex, but only after Guy has lost his wife and child, due to his obsession with Nicola.

Nicola’s relationship with Keith is completely different. A wife-beating, misogynistic, small-time crook/con-man and pornograpy addict, his relationship with Nicola is sexually intense, abrasive and arguably controlling. Nicola dresses seductively and dominates the relationship. She is a trophy with whom Keith enjoys being seen and it she who Keith takes to his T.V interview rather than his actual wife. Nicola takes pleasure in bringing Guy and Keith together and taunts them both with her flirting. Guy finds himself embroiled in low life encounters, far from his own wealthy, entitled life and even becomes a darts coach to Keith, who goes on to find moderate fame and sporting success. The intensity of Keith’s unpleasantness and abuse towards his wife and child, leaves the reader reeling as to why she doesn’t escape the relationship. She is presented by the narrator as returning again and again for more abuse.

It so happens that Keith, in the guise of taxi driver, takes the American narrator, Samson Young  to the apartment where he will be stay in London, (having swapped apartments with a wealthy and successful writer. He thus becomes part of the action, living in the same apartment block as Nicola. Of course he too succumbs to her wiles.

Nicola is presented as manipulative, controlling, sexy and dishonest, yet I question whether we even begin to get to know her, as despite the dominance of her presence, we don’t get to view the book from her perspective. I can see how this has led so many critics to view the text as pure misogny.

Book Club Questions on Martin Amis' London Fields

Martin Amis said in a Goodreads interview with John McNaughtie that he adores all of his characters. He also mentioned that when he was a younger man he was to some extent involved in the lives of people like his characters. How does this make you feel about the book?
Guy has all the wealth, class and status. He met his wife at university and they have one toddler who is ‘challenging’. Is Guy just a romantic fool? Discuss.
Keith is a despicable  misogynist, liar, cheat, abuser, bully and more besides. Despite this he has numerous girlfriends as well as his abused wife. Why does he continue to have success with women? What is Martin Amis saying about relationships?
Martin Amis says that the book is potentially based on real London people. Do you think the world he creates exists? Could this world exist somewhere like a small village or town?
Nicola Six manipulates all the men in the story. In addition she achieves her prediction of death at 30. Is Nicola the hero of the story? Why or why not?
The book is written in the late eighties, but projects forward ten years to the 1990s. Did you think it was a realistic presentation of this era?
The New York Times called London “a virtuoso depiction of a wild and lustful society.” Do you agree?
When American novelist Samson Young discovers Nicola’s story, it feels like an instant cure for his writer’s block. He becomes embroiled in his own story and ultimately ends up being the murderer, before dying himself. Mark Asprey benefits from this and publishes the book under his own name. Would you ever steal someone else’s creative work?

So, just supposing there were only three men left on earth, Samson (a dying author), Keith (a low life gangster) and Guy (a wealthy businessman) and you had to save humankind by procreating with one of them,  who would you pick and why? (You can have fun exploring the different types of partners even if you haven’t read the book.)

Keith is a gifted darts player. He also is able to commentate in detail on all sports, imitating a media style, yet he isn’t mocking the media. It is just how he thinks about the events. What is Amis saying?
Amis says in an interview that he can do without politicized readers, stating that they are not interested in the story or character, but immediately have made a judgement on the book, the second they hear the word ‘rape’. How does the comment make you feel about him as a writer and the book?

Father and son - two famous and very succesful authors!

Book Club Questions on Martin Amis' London Fields (If you haven't read the book)

The narrator of London Fields  starts the book by saying this is the story of a murder and he knows who the murderee is. This means it isn’t so much a whodunnit as why they’ve done it. The twist is that although the narrator knows, the reader doesn’t know, so for them it is a kind of whodunnit. The structure in essence is quite complicated and clever. Do you enjoy reading books that challenge traditional narrative styles and conventions?

Nicola claims to be a clairvoyant and knows when she will be killed but she doesn’t know who by. Samson had read books where she claimed to know about her parents’ and sister’s death. Is she a clairvoyant or has she manipulated her own death? Do you believe in clairvoyancy?

In the reviews of London Fields Guy’s marriage is often described as loveless. Is it? What makes a successful marriage?

Personal Response to Martin Amis' London Fields

Nicola is presented as manipulative, controlling, sexy and dishonest, yet I question whether we even begin to get to know her, as despite the dominance of her presence, we don’t get to view the book from her perspective. I can see how this has led so many critics to view the text as pure misogny.

There is no doubt that Amis is hugely clever. The ability to pull the story together to a cohesive whole, within such a complex structure is exceptional. Amis, claims in an interview, and the book itself, that, perhaps with the exception of Larkin, authors don’t address the issues that are explored in this text – violence, violent sex, abuse, and unspoken and unwelcome fantasies and desires. He is probably right, but I find this unpleasant. I don’t overly want to enter that world! You could claim then that Amis has achieved his aim in challenging the reader’s sensibilties and being drawn into a world that they are uncomfortable with. It is certainly not the realm of the politicized reader that Amis disdains.

I found this book impossible to read as a written text, yet I was able to listen to it. This leaves me with a personal question of whether distatesful and disturbing accounts are more palatable presented in a media other than written form. If so I’m left wondering what this says about the preconceived ideas and values associated with the sanctity of the written word. 

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