by Martin Amis
Using my new Kindle as a repository for 'books I’ve always meant to read', LONDON FIELDS was the first book I downloaded. I wasn’t disappointed. The novel was written in 1989 but set in 1999, where Britain seems to be in the throes of some unstipulated nuclear or ecological disaster – “the Crisis”. It is an edgy, blackly-comic murder mystery, a social commentary with a slightly sci-fi vibe, featuring highly memorable characters who serendipitously come together.
To the story: Samson Young, our narrator, is a mediocre American writer who has flat-swapped with the urbane, highly successful, west London writer, Mark Asprey (M A!). He stumbles into a drama via the den of iniquity that is known as the Black Cross pub. Here he becomes acquainted with (and they with each other) the main protagonists of the novel; Keith Talent: the Muderer; Nicola Six: the Murderee and Guy Clinch: the Foil. Samson finds Nicola’s diary in a rubbish bin and the plot is revealed. He is terminally ill and hasn’t got long to put the story to paper. He explains: “This is the story of a murder. It hasn’t happened yet. But it will. (It had better). I know the murderer, I know the murderee. I know the time. I know the place. I know the motive (her motive) and I know the means. I know who will be the foil, the fool, the poor foal, also utterly destroyed. And I couldn’t stop them, I don’t think, Even if I wanted to. The girl will die. It's what she always wanted. You can't stop people, once they start. You can't stop people, once they start creating.”
So we know from the beginning what is going to take place.
The Black Cross pub is a west London drinking hole situated between:
a) the rat-infested estate where Keith, a darts-playing, petty criminal and philandering woman beater, lives with his wife and baby daughter Kim, and
b) the smart town house of rich, successful banker, Guy where he lives with his demanding American wife, Hope, and monstrous, cartoonish child, Marmaduke.
The home lives of the two are intolerable (in no small way due to themselves) and the pub is their common refuge. In walks Nicola Six; tall, dark, mysterious and sexy as hell. Both men are drawn into her web. What follows is a tangle created by Nicola to lure them into performing her murder, which she has planned for midnight on November 5th - her 35th birthday. In short, by her playing one off against the other, Keith Talent, the known criminal, will kill Nicola Six with Guy Clinch as the fall guy who will (set up by Nicola) provoke Keith into committing the murder. But can things pan out this simply?
I loved this novel for its multi-layered structure, the writing style, the awful, but strangely compulsive characters and especially how Amis gets into the heart and soul of London juxtaposing poverty and wealth, class, race and culture. It should be a set text on Thatcher’s Britain in its most grotesque form.
Published by Vintage – 480pp