It’s not very often that I praise or defend Charles Bukowski. I think his work [Post Office, aside] lamentable guff, and his supporters [his ardent supporters], er, somewhat challenged. And yet, one thing you can say about Chuck is that he knew his limitations, he knew what he could do and [admirably] stuck to that. He was like that friend of yours who understands his type, is happy with the kinds of girls he attracts, and doesn’t try shooting for ones totally unsuited to him or out of his league. Martin Amis, on the otherhand, is the kind of friend who would spend an entire night trying to chat up a hardcore lesbian.
To my mind, Amis is a writer who seems to have no understanding of what he is good at, and what, indeed, he sucks at. And believe me, when he sucks he really fucking sucks. At its worst his work is almost offensive, not morally but artistically. Nearly every Amis novel I have read has impressed me and bamboozled me with its shitiness, in equal measure. Take Money, which contains, in places, prose to die for. There were times when reading this book that I was prepared to sacrifice a goat to it, and dance around a copy while smeared with the animal’s blood.
“Money doesn’t mind if we say it’s evil, it goes from strength to strength. It’s a fiction, an addiction, and a tacit conspiracy.”
The principle strand of the plot is fine too. John Self is in New York in order to make a movie; he is an overweight boozer, with an obnoxious streak, who is gunning for the American Dream, but who is likely to have a coronary before he even gets his foot on the ladder. He is, I must say, one of Amis’ least ridiculous characters. The people who populate his work are cartoonish to say the least, but Self feels almost kosher, almost well-developed.
Money is, as Martin’s novels almost always are, also very very funny. Indeed, he is as talented a comic writer as I have ever read. The real jewel this time around is Lorne Guyland, an aging once-star who is on board to appear in Self’s movie. There is no sense of subtle characterization, of course, but his ranting demands for script changes, and desperate desire to convince everyone that he is a still-virile superstud had me doubled up with laughter. For these reasons, I simply cannot fully hate on Money.
Yet it would be remiss of me not to probe in slightly more detail some of the, um, issues I have with the work. My first quibble is a minor one in the greater scheme of things, but I can’t let it pass without comment. As far as I am concerned, a writer ought never to include himself as a character in his novel, which is, unfortunately, what Amis does here. In fairness, the author is present only fleetingly, but that is almost more irritating than if he had been a major character. One can’t help but wonder, what is the point? Is it clever? Emphatically, no. Is it funny? Daring? No, twice no. Why, then? Ego, my friends. Ego: that insatiable little imp!
“Sometimes I feel that life is passing me by, not slowly either, but with ropes of steam and spark-spattered wheels and a hoarse roar of power or terror. It’s passing, yet I’m the one who’s doing all the moving. I’m not the station, I’m not the stop: I’m the train. I’m the train.”
A more serious issue with the book is the tiresome criminal caper that ultimately serves up the lame, preposterous, twist at the end. I’m on record in criticising Amis’ preoccupation with criminals [while reading most of his books I can’t help but imagine Amis naked in front of a mirror, fondling a firearm], and, more specifically, with the apparent need to crowbar some kind of mystery-thriller element into, if not all, then, certainly, his most revered, work [London Fields, Money and The Information]. You know the phrase too many cooks spoil the broth? Well, too many plots spoil the book. In fact, Amis’ plots always strike me as a weird form of self-harm, or self-sabotage.
In conclusion, while Money contains many laudable elements it is also prone to Amis’ usual errors of judgement. His goodwill-sapping insistence on postmodern pyrotechnics [faulty, disappointing pyrotechnics; fireworks that sputter and die, sparklers that won’t ignite], and overstuffing his work with distracting subplots, is akin to the writers of The Simpsons suddenly deciding that Homer isn’t funny enough to be the focus of the show and that Lisa ought to be the real star. And just imagine, people, how truly fucking awful that would be.