London Fields

( 5 )

Overview

London Fields is Amis's murder story for the end of the millennium. The murderee is Nicola Six, a "black hole" of sex and self-loathing intent on orchestrating her own extinction. The murderer may be Keith Talent, a violent lowlife whose only passions are pornography and darts. Or is the killer the rich, honorable, and dimly romantic Guy Clinch?

"A comic murder mystery, an apocalyptic satire, a scatological meditation on love and death and ...
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London Fields

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Overview

London Fields is Amis's murder story for the end of the millennium. The murderee is Nicola Six, a "black hole" of sex and self-loathing intent on orchestrating her own extinction. The murderer may be Keith Talent, a violent lowlife whose only passions are pornography and darts. Or is the killer the rich, honorable, and dimly romantic Guy Clinch?

"A comic murder mystery, an apocalyptic satire, a scatological meditation on love and death and nuclear winter...by turns lyrical and obscene, colloquial and rhapsodic."—Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

In this wildly ambitious and funny novel, one of England's brilliant young writers relates two murders in the making. The first is the self-orchestrated extinction of Nicola Six. The second is the murder of the Earth itself, whose fate seems intricately bound up with Nicola's.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this very British tale, femme fatale Nicola Six manipulates racist, sexist scoundrel Keith Talent and well-mannered, naive Guy Clinch as an omniscient narrator/novelist spies on the trio in order to develop his book. ``Relentlessly bitter, often brutally funny, hypnotically readable, it may also be quite opaque in places to an American readership.''
Library Journal
Amis' disappointing...novel follows the machinations of promiscuous Nicola Six, a psychic who senses that she is to be murdered by one of two men she meets in a London bar. She systematically humiliates both--prole darts champ Keith and posh, ineffectual Guy--only to discover that for once her powers have misled her. Set ``at the end of the millennium'' against the background of a vaguely defined political/ecological/cosmological crisis, this novel is far longer than its thin content warrants. What can Amis have against these minimally developed characters that he devotes nearly 500 pages to demolishing them? There's disgust aplenty here--but little else. -- Grove Koger, Boise Public Library, Idaho
Library Journal
Amis' disappointing...novel follows the machinations of promiscuous Nicola Six, a psychic who senses that she is to be murdered by one of two men she meets in a London bar. She systematically humiliates both--prole darts champ Keith and posh, ineffectual Guy--only to discover that for once her powers have misled her. Set ``at the end of the millennium'' against the background of a vaguely defined political/ecological/cosmological crisis, this novel is far longer than its thin content warrants. What can Amis have against these minimally developed characters that he devotes nearly 500 pages to demolishing them? There's disgust aplenty here--but little else. -- Grove Koger, Boise Public Library, Idaho
Michiko Kakutani
A comic murder mystery, an apocalyptic satire, a scatological meditation on love and death and nuclear winter...by turns lyrical and obscene, colloquial and rhapsodic. -- The New York Times
Library Journal
Amis's (www.martinamisweb.com) darkly comic look at late 20th-century London and the despairing state of Western civilization was originally published in 1989 and is newly available on audio (the only other recording, on audiocassette, is no longer available). At the book's center are failed criminal/aspiring professional darts player Keith Talent; Guy Clinch, a rich, bored banker; Guy's son, Marmaduke, arguably the most horrendous infant in all of literature; Nicola Six, a party girl with a death wish; and the unreliable narrator, Sam Young, an American with writer's block. As these and assorted other colorful characters interact, Amis considers the not-always-fulfilled allures of love and fame. Adopting a gruff American accent, British actor Steven Pacey captures Sam's fascination with the characters' blunders and his barely concealed desire to manipulate their fates. This superb audio treatment of a great novel will appeal to those who enjoy serious fiction that attempts to encompass societal woes without being didactic. Darts fans may also be amused.—Michael Adams, CUNY Graduate Ctr. Lib.
From the Publisher
"A comic murder mystery, an apocalyptic satire, a scatological meditation on love and death and nuclear winter...by turns lyrical and obscene, colloquial and rhapsodic." —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679730347
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/28/1991
  • Series: Vintage International Series
  • Edition description: 1st Vintage International Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 480
  • Sales rank: 509,960
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Martin Amis
MARTIN AMIS is the author of fourteen novels, the memoir Experience, several collections of stories, and six nonfiction books. He lives in Brooklyn.

JOHN SUTHERLAND is Emeritus Professor of English Literature at University College London and a regular columnist at The Guardian.

Biography

The son of legendary English writer Kingley Amis, Martin Amis was born in Oxford in 1949 and attended a number of schools in Great Britain, Spain, and America. By his own admission he was a lackluster student. He spent much of his youth reading comic books, until his stepmother, the novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard, took him under her wing, introducing him to literature and encouraging him to study for university entrance. After months of furious cramming, he was accepted into Exeter College in Oxford, graduating with First Class Honors in English.

After graduation, Amis went to work as an editorial assistant at The Times Literary Supplement. In 1973, at the tender of age of 24, he published his award-winning debut novel, The Rachel Papers. Rife with the mordant black humor that would characterize all his fiction, this comic coming-of-age tale was a fitting debut for a career that would be fixated on sex, drugs, and the seamier aspects of modern culture. It also proved to be the first in a long string of bestsellers.

Amis is often grouped with the generation of British-based novelists that emerged during the 1980s and included Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, and Julian Barnes; but it is safe to say he has generated more controversy than his esteemed colleagues. No one feels neutral about Amis's novels. In a 1999 profile in Esquire, Sven Birkerts put it this way: "He is seen either as a cynically chugging bubble machine, way overrated for his hammy turns, or else as a dazzler, the next real thing."

In addition to his provocative fiction, Amis has grabbed more than his fair share of attention for antics off the page. Graced with youthful good looks, he enjoyed a reputation as a notorious womanizer (not unlike his famous father). Much photographed and buzzed about, he was dubbed early on the "enfant terrible" of English literature -- two parts writer, one part rock star. He attracted headlines like a magnet when he left his wife and children for a younger woman; when he fired his longtime literary agent, the wife of his good friend Julian Barnes; and when his new agent (unaffectionately nicknamed "the Jackal) secured for him an advance of 500,000 pounds, 20,000 pounds of which Amis spent on expensive American dental surgery.

Although reviewers are divided over Amis's long-range literary legacy, even his harshest critics begrudgingly acknowledge his stylistic genius, verbal agility, and biting, satirical wit. The novels for which he is best known (and most respected) comprise an informal trilogy: Money (1984), London Fields (1989), and The Information (1995). In addition, he has written short stories, essays, a nonfiction work on 20th-century communism, and an acclaimed memoir, Experience, detailing his relationship with his father, his writing career, and his convoluted family life. He also contributes regularly to newspapers, magazines, and journals.

Good To Know

Amis attended more than 13 schools while growing up in Great Britain, Spain and the United States.

He was named the "rock star of English literature" by the London Daily Telegraph in 1996.

Amis was profoundly shocked and grieved to discover that his long-lost, beloved cousin Lucy Partington, thought to have simply disappeared in 1973, had fallen victim to Fred West, one of England's most notorious serial killers.

In a much-publicized reunion in 1996, Amis met for the first time a young woman named Delilah Seale who was his daughter from a brief 1970s affair.

Amis has been influenced by several American novelists, including Philip Roth and John Updike, but none so profoundly as Saul Bellow, who became a mentor and something of a father figure.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Martin Louis Amis (full name)
    2. Hometown:
      Oxford, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      August 25, 1949
    2. Place of Birth:
      Oxford, England
    1. Education:
      B.A., Exeter College, Oxford

Read an Excerpt

Excerpted from the Introduction

I N T R O D U C T I O N

 Death is killing me.
 
. . .  this is London;  and there are no fields. Only fields of operation and observation, only fields of electromagnetic attraction and repulsion, only fields of hatred and coercion.
 
London Fields was published in September 1989. It did not foresee a long future for the planet. The novel is set in 1999, ten years on, and doomsday is predicted to arrive in January 2000. There remain, over the blazing hot September/October months which the narrative covers, only a few weeks before what is vaguely called the ‘Crisis’, or ‘Totality’, heralded by a total eclipse and terminal darkness. ‘Countdown to catastrophe’ is the novel’s time-frame.
 
But what kind of catastrophe? It’s not clear what form the rider of the ad 2000 apocalypse will take – nor, oddly, does the novel seem much to care. A colliding asteroid perhaps. Or a new alignment of the sun, itself going through a crisis of solar supergranulation, its evil rays glimmering through ominously ‘dead clouds’. A voracious black hole may be swirling towards the solar system invisibly, sucking into its vortex light, heat and soon planet earth as well. The authorities have scheduled a ‘cathartic’ exchange of nuclear weaponry. It is all up in the air. As the sandwich-men used vaguely to proclaim, the end of the world is ‘nigh’. Very nigh. But, as one of the characters in the novel puts it, ‘Life goes on innit’. For a month or two.
 
London Fields is the second part of Amis’s so-called ‘London Trilogy’ The man who is ‘tired of London’, said Samuel Johnson, is ‘tired of life’. Martin Amis would seem to be extremely tired. Amisian London is the suppurating bubo of a plague planet: a city where the tap water ‘had passed at least twice through every granny’. Weather forecasts are so horrific that they are broadcast late at night, after the children have gone to bed. The city is bathed in the corrupt ‘afterglow of empire’, as lingeringly poisonous as radioactive half-life. ‘And this also’, says Conrad’s Marlow in Heart of Darkness, looking down the Thames towards the great luminous city, ‘has been one of the dark places of the earth.’ In London Fields it is again a dark place – terminally dark.
 
Like D. H. Lawrence (a writer alluded to in London Fields) Amis sees the great tree of life, Yggdrasil, as dead to the roots in England. It can never grow again. But unlike Lawrence – who, after the First World War, embarked on his ‘passionate pilgrimage’ round the world to discover vitalities in places untouched by the catastrophe (largely where men did not wear trousers) – there is nowhere to go in Amis’s blighted world. ‘Totality’ means just that. It’s all over. Goodnight planet earth. And good riddance.
 
In a teasing foreword ‘M.A.’ confides to the prospective reader that he passed sleepless nights before coming up with the title. For those who know the city, particularly those who have house-hunted in it, forget any topographical association with the actual London Fields, E8  (Hackney). That location never crops up in the narrative. The novel’s action is centred on the other side of the city, around Portobello Road and its W11 environs – Amis’s stamping ground in the 1980 s. The other main candidate title was, we are told, Millennium  – but Amis finally judged it to be too hackneyed. ‘Everything is called Millennium just now’ (in Germany, one is told, the novel was retitled 1999).
 
What, then, did Amis intend us to understand by ‘London Fields’? A main allusion, one suspects, is to Falstaff  ’s babbling about ‘green fields’ on his deathbed. The verdant fields evoke ‘London like it used to be’. Pre-urban. Urban London destroys fields. That’s its reason for being. The city aims to extend itself, with concrete, steel, tarmac, bricks, glass and garbage, ‘right up to the rocks and the cliff s and the water’. You will no more find green fields in modern London than undergrowth and men with smocks and crooks in Shepherd’s Bush, or herons over Herne Hill, or cows munching contentedly outside Chalk Farm tube station. Peter Kemp, an astute commentator on London Fields, sees it as a ‘pastoral title savagely inappropriate to its inner-city setting, [which] vibrates, like all Amis’s work, with the force fields of sinister, destructive energies’.
 
Amis, finally unburdened of his tedious ‘enfant terrible ’ epithet, was forty years old when London Fields saw print in 1989. Life begins at that age, says the dubious proverb. The number is not something that gave Martin Amis new pleasure in life. In interviews given around the cross-over period he confided that ‘the message has got through’. He was mortal and racked by the fact. ‘When middle age comes, you think you’re dying all the time’, his forty-something narrator bleakly observes. The forty-year-old author himself is quoted as saying, ‘looking at death is a full-time job’ – a job which he performs more conscientiously than most of us do in London Fields.  Martin Amis, behind and outside the novel, but everywhere inside it, has, we apprehend, come to terms with the irreversible fact, that as the singer-poet Jim Morrison put it, ‘Nobody gets out of here alive.’ Life sentence, death sentence – what’s the difference?
 
London Fields is dedicated by Martin to his father, Kingsley Amis. He, too, was much preoccupied with death as a subject. It is proclaimed most aggressively in the title of his 1966 novel, The Anti-Death League, In the 1980s, as London Fields was distantly taking form in Martin’s mind, his father produced, among other late-career masterpieces, The Old Devils  (1986), the study of terminal decay and imminent demise which won Amis Sr his long overdue Booker. It would have been nice, and wholly appropriate, for London Fields to have won Amis Jr the award three years later. But he had put too many noses out of joint. He may have been well past infantile, but he was still, in 1989, too terrible a middle-aged man for many tastes.
 
London Fields opens, disarmingly, with a set of pseudo-candid definitions of what is to come which, like the title, will set the reader running in entirely wrong directions:
 
 
This is a true story but I can’t believe it’s really happening. It’s a murder story, too. I can’t believe my luck.
 
And it’s a love story (I think), of all strange things, so late in the century, so late in the goddamned day.
 
 
 The reader is hereby primed for docufiction, crime fiction, romantic fiction and science fiction. It’s none and all of these. The speaker is Samson Young. He is creating a novel within the novel, but he will not, as we shall discover, be the final novelist. Indeed, at times, Samson seems to be incapable of keeping possession of any important part of the narrative, which is constantly slipping through his fingers as he writes it. Unlike his biblical counterpart, Samson is neither young nor strong, but like him, though less dramatically, he is losing his eyesight. We learn that he is in stage four of a terminal illness. What the illness is, we are not precisely told. But the fact that his dead father was a scientist working with plutonium is a broad hint. As a novelist Sam has another severe handicap. He can’t invent. He can only report on the characters who – like clockwork puppets – he winds up and lets go. Once created by his mind they go their own wayward way, however hard he tries to keep them in line and create some kind of ‘story’ out of what they’ve decided, often against his wishes, to do.
 
It’s rich territory for postmodernist jests. The heroine Nicola, for example, asks Sam at one point to ‘edit out’ another character who is really getting on her nerves. The novelist declines. He banishes the complainant from the immediate story. Later he has sex with her. ‘It doesn’t matter what anyone writes any more,’ he ruefully concludes. ‘Man, am I a reliable narrator’, he exclaims elsewhere. He isn’t. At times he can’t even claim to be an unreliable narrator. He’s just around at the scene of the action which he has somehow set going.
 
It is one of the many snares for the reader of London Fields that the novel has what looks at first sight like a geometrical structure – it’s shapely, architectural even, in its formal layout. The table of contents is set out in triplets and sextuplets, the chapters making up the ‘pleasingly symmetrical’ and circadian number of twenty-four. Euclidean is a word which comes to mind. The chapters themselves conform to the same symmetrical shape – each beginning with Sam’s voice-over lead-in. But the narrative, which runs like mercury through these structures, is chaotic, fluid, at any point wholly unpredictable.
 
Amis was deeply interested in theoretical physics at this stage of his life.3 Quantum mechanics and the mysterious unfixities of sub-atomic particles seem to have been something he was pondering in London Fields. Sam, at one point, muses on ‘Heisenberg’s principle that an observed system inevitably interacts with its observer’. Indeterminacy makes for a novel which is infinitely rewarding, but not for the faint-hearted reader. My head, I confess, aches when I try to take on board the Heisenberg uncertainty principle that sub-atomic reality changes, simply because you are looking at it. Or that a particle can be in two places simultaneously. The novel requires a kind of continuous double-think. Sam, too, is in two places at once, both outside and inside his novel. A novel which changes, simply because we are reading it.
 
In an important sense Amis’s novel seems to be in two different places, or time zones, at once. Although it’s stated (always parenthetically) that the action is happening in the late 1990s, the ‘feel’ of the novel is much more the 1970s and in places the mid-1980 s. Low-life characters, for example, are wearing ‘flares’ and clacking around in ‘Cuban heels’ (finery as antique as woad in 1999), and slaver over their porn on VCRs. There are no computers, no mobile phones. The world would have ground to a halt in 1999 without its digital ‘chips’ (many Y2 K nightmares were concocted on just that theme). They are non-existent in this chipless narrative. Engelbert Humperdinck and Barry Manilow (sixty-three and fifty-six years old respectively in 1999) are warbling anachronistically in the background. The Soviet Union still exists as one of the world’s two superpowers (the Berlin Wall actually fell two months after the publication of London Fields. The Evil Empire was wobbling, terminally, as Amis was writing.) No British prime minister or government is mentioned in the text. But incidental jokes such as the following point strongly towards Mrs Thatcher’s 1980 s:  ‘In a bold response to an earlier crisis, it was decided to double the number of council flats. They didn’t build any new council flats. They just halved all the old council flats.’ So when is the novel ‘set’? 1970 s, 1980 s, or late 1990 s? A category mistake. The narrative, like that elusive particle, is in many historical places at once. It depends on where you are when you look at it.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 5 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 10, 2003

    Not For The Masses

    This work can best be appreciated if: 1.) You are an Anglophile 2.) You have read all (or most of) the literary works referenced in this book. While many critics have analyzed Martin's exquisite prose (and unusual style) in this novel as being a postmodern display of the Apocalypse written in English (with a notable Professor linking the four main characters as The Horsemen), why not appreciate this work as it stands? It grabs you from the start, builds the readers' interest in the characters and plot, titillates every lobe of their combined consciousness, and delivers!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2002

    Correction of review inaccuracies

    A great book - hilarious and repulsive in equal parts and very much a novel of its time. Sadly, other reviews have included some errors which should be set straight. Anyone claiming that there is no murder clearly did not make it to the end of the book. There is a murder and we discover the identity of the murderer. Likewise it is worth pointing out that Nicola Six is not a psychic who has a premonition of who will murder her - she knows who it will be because she judges in that person a capacity to kill and then manipulates events towards that end. Any suggestion that she has mysterious telepathic powers can only be due to a very flawed reading of the novel.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 4, 2002

    Titillating? Yes. Fascinating? Yes. Genius? No.

    I concur with the previous reviewer who laments another reader's assertion that no murder occurs. However, the reviewer's indignation over calling Nicola Six a psychic is misplaced. I've read this book over 100 times and Amis mentions more than once that Nicola "always knew what was going to happen", even as a child. That cleared up, I think it's necessary to mention that Martin Amis can be more facile with the English language than almost any other writer but comes on a bit heavy handed when he's philosophizing. Read this book for the same reasons you watch a lurid B movie. An anglophile like myself will wallow in his descriptions of life on the Portobello Road, but those less enamored of British society may be left cold.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2002

    Keith Talent rocks!

    This is a murder mystery with a catch; there's nobody killed. We are told that nicola will be murdered soon at the very beginning of the novel so all throughout the book while we're trying to figure out who the murderer is there's still no one murdered. That in itself is interesting and Amis's skill would earn him four stars at least, but the greatest part about this book is watching the characters, namely Keith Talent. Keith Talent is a kind of Don Quixote of London Fields. I enjoyed the story and the writing, but it just doesn't compare to how much i enjoyed watching to see what Keith would do next. Hilarious!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2013

    Silverkit

    Pads in. She looked around for Silverkits Ghost and laid down sadly

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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