Martin Amis and the Wrong Kind of Money

£2.49 in Oxfam Carlisle.

£2.49 in Oxfam Carlisle.

My goodness. Looking back, I realise how much I gassed on about this novel to my partner while I was reading it. We went on walks while visiting her relatives, and that romantic myth about walking and talking books with people who are close to you came undone each time I pulled my fingers back out from my throat. “Eeaurth,” I heaved “That Amis  *earth* unsympathetic characters *earth wooer* how caricatured they are *earth wooer, cat-cat, oh ‘scuse me, wooer-earth* [now dabbing the diced carrots from my mouth]: how empty their lives are.”

What forced my hand was not so much an annoyance at the characters themselves as a certain smugness on the part of Amis. There is a pervading sense that the novel’s statement amounts to something like “this new money is the wrong kind of money because it lacks breeding and the cultural sensitivity that goes with that breeding.”

The author rams this home with occasional cameos. These give him the opportunity to contrast just how cultured he is with how crude, shallow, and sunk in sin that the characters are. For Money follows the relentless drinking, spending, shagging and insulting that is supposed to (I assume) represent the values of the movie business the characters work in. This low-brow setting gives ample opportunity to demonstrate the awful lives and views of life that the author clearly wishes to parody. There are some redemptive features. Dispensing with plot in favour of a collection of chronologically progressing scenes is appropriate to the nihilistic material. I get that the characters fit an idea of tragedy in which those who have everything stand to lose it if they lack the wherewithal to keep it. What I doubt though is that they’d be so unaware or indifferent that this idea might be lost on them.

So I found myself having two reactions. Firstly a sense of “why should I care?” Why should I share the author’s continual sneering at a cardboard cut-out nouveau riche? My second reaction was to laugh loud out at the acid humour in spite of myself. This raised the odd eyebrow when I read during my lunch breaks at work. The difficulty it raised was that anything that provoked this reaction further provoked the desire to read out an excerpt to someone; the sophistication to Amis’s prose is in how his ‘gags’, if we can call them that, usually make sense only in context with the preceding few pages or even the entire story. This would leave me wondering at the merits in re-reading Money were it not for way that the uncultured with new money weren’t credited with enough redemptive features to three-dimension them out.

Amis is ubiquitous in secondhand bookshops. If you see him in one, support that secondhand bookshop: that way you give less money (along the chain, as it were) to the author. After all, too much money leads to an uncultured character, right?


If this review interested you, then you might also enjoy this one on Amis Sr.’s The Old Devils, posted on Intermittencies of the Mind.

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13 Responses to Martin Amis and the Wrong Kind of Money

  1. Jonathan says:

    Your reaction does seem similar to mine when I read The Old Devils, especially the two-dimensional characters and the ‘why-should-I care’ attitude towards them. I didn’t find Amis Sr’s attitude to his characters condescending though.

    When I read OD I did wonder if I was just being the sort of reader that I don’t particularly like, i.e. one who doesn’t like a book that has characters they don’t ‘like’. But your criticism of Amis Jr is more directed at the author’s attitude towards his characters. It can be difficult to read if the author evokes no sympathy for his characters at all.

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    • Jeff says:

      I didn’t particularly like Theo in Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. But there were enough dimensions to him for me to give him some slack and become as self-aware as you suggest in thinking about whether you *should* like a character or not. The characters in Money are spring-up targets on a shooting range. Amis’s attitude towards them is plain enough, especially when he appears among them, standing out from them with characteristics such as sounding reasonable. Yet I can’t help but wonder if my kind of response is exactly what Amis deliberately aims for in order to foster an enfant terrible image? And infantile surface to adult mind-games perhaps?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Eric Wayne says:

    I read this book a long time ago, maybe 15 years or so. A friend highly recommended it. I thought it was trash. I got nothing out of it other than a few guffaws. Couldn’t care less about the characters…

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    • Jeff says:

      Don’t know if you read it a few years previously, but there was a similar satire on money written by Bret Easton-Ellis called American Psycho. I found myself comparing the two as I read Money. AS directed the ire on the effects of money itself rather than making moral judgements. This is particularly so in how the impact on Bateman’s victims appeals to your empathic responses. And Ellis didn’t appear in any scenes just to tell you that, in contrast to Bateman, he can translate Russian poetry (“Oh, but then I bet Ellis can’t” I imagine Amis pointing out).

      Liked by 1 person

  3. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    I think you’ve hit on a lot of the issues I have with Amis – mostly I just never care for his characters enough to wants to finish a book!

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    • Jeff says:

      I don’t mind unsympathetic characters per se. And I found their viciousness promised enough laughs to keep me going to the end. It’s just that the one-dimensionality was too unreal to lift it beyond being a dogmatic comic strip. Amis’s unceasing need to stand in judgement crowds me out so much that, although I might try some first pages of something else, I expect my presence as reader to be largely superfluous.

      Liked by 1 person

      • kaggsysbookishramblings says:

        I know what you mean – and I don’t necessarily want a book with entirely nice, sympathetic people. But I need to connect somehow, and I often don’t with his books. Time’s Arrow I loved, and also Koba the Dread (which was non-fiction). But with much of his fiction I’ve felt too detached to really enjoy it in any way.

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        • Jeff says:

          It’s a patient reader that tries another work by an author they don’t take too well to. I shall test my patience when I have chance at a glimpse. Time’s Arrow does sound worthwhile.
          Didn’t know about Koba. Wierdly, Amis’s name is qualified by ‘author of Experience’. Who else would readers have thought might have written it?

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          • kaggsysbookishramblings says:

            I think Koba kind of follows on from Experience, which is why they might be highlighting it. Give Time’s Arrow a try if you come across it – it’s the one Amis ficton book I’ve kept on my shelves.

            Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m actually reading Money at the moment for our Book Group – timely. I’m only 50 pages in, but perversely I’m beginning to enjoy it in a smug I-know-I-can-take-it-down type way!

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    • Jeff says:

      Not sure I’d say don’t read it, just that it needs a health warning. I’ve seen worse selections for a book group – loads on non-descript genre stuff that you’ll never have heard of and probably won’t ever again. Better having something you can get your teeth into and remember in years to come, right reasons or not.

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  5. bellarah says:

    This is meant to be an academic novel, right? If so, I’ve found they absolutely love their detestable characters. I had to read a Coetzee earlier this year and oh man, if I could leap through a book to throttle a character, it’d be Elizabeth Costello. I think I’ll be giving Amis… a miss. (lolzes.)

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    • Jeff says:

      Good point. I wondered as I was reading it exactly who it was written for. The exaggeration and snark gives the novel the feel of a code for those in the know, these probably being people in the literary and publishing industry. But enough about them: what about us?
      And maybe that’s it. Does the novel ask us to choose between a culturally empty populism and a knowing coterie?
      I shall have to read some first pages of Coetzee. Whoah – his wiki profile gives an austere impression!

      Liked by 1 person

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