Thursday, 3 April 2008

London Fields

The New York Times asks: "is the world in for a rosier future, or are we just kidding ourselves?". It says that "Martin Amis, unregenerate, is determined to send us plummeting into darkness. With evangelical ardor, he sets his sixth novel, 'London Fields', in the grimmest of times."

Well, I'm not kidding myself. I'm in the middle of reading London Fields, and sure, I have some sense of the dread, of the impending doom. I can see the characters and the plot spinning towards their dark climax. Two of the characters can also see it coming, in some sense. But as I read Amis' description of societal decay, I see more of an accurate reflection than a prediction. Perhaps in 1989 it was a prediction -- but now?

Am I being unfair, overly cynical? People accuse me of it frequently, and insist that I think positively. These are peaceful and prosperous times. Sure, maybe so, but at what cost? And isn't it possible that they are the deluded ones? Holding false hope to keep themselves going, or even worse -- they just *don't care* about anything outside of their own hedonistic lives? Well at some point they may well be forced to care, and to think about more than having fun in a world of trash tabloids, throwaway TV and modern consumerism.

Equally possible is that I'm deluded, and that this attitude is a reflection of my own state of mind. I'll admit to that - I'll cop it on the chin. It's true that I'm in quite a state. I'm in retreat, more so than ever. After 28 years, things just stack up, and I don't really understand how anybody can stay sane. Not without a great deal of denial. Maybe I've just read too much Martin Amis.

But I digress. The state of society, the "world situation", are just a backdrop in this book - they set the scene. The impact is more upon the mood of the story (and the reader) than the characters or the plot. I might write more about the story of London Fields later, or perhaps not, there's heaps of reviews already out there. And my motivation has rather sharp limits, these days.

I found somebody who agrees with me to some extent, at least. In his 2002 review, Jason Picone said that "First published in 1989, London Fields has aged extremely well; it's so relevant to current events that it's a bit disquieting.". Well I'm in 2008 finding it more than a bit disquieting.

More from Picone:
"The other thread of the novel is the crisis, or as Amis writes it, the Crisis, which is more or less the apocalypse, always lurking in the novel's margins. The most prevalent manifestation of the Crisis is the threat of nuclear warfare, though pollution and unchecked capitalism are also in the Amis world destruction derby. The numbered days of the Earth are counted down concurrently with those of Nicola Six, a seemingly odd comparison that ultimately resonates with meaning. Amis charges that both Nicola Six and the Earth's inhabitants are complicit in their own deaths, welcoming doom simply because they believe it is the most likely outcome.

Read in the light of current events, the book is a warning against hopelessness and pessimism. Amis's murderers' triangle is an example of three individuals who take life too lightly, limiting themselves to narrow, unhappy lives because an omnipresent Crisis has hammered them into a despair they aren't fully aware of."

A warning against hopelessness and pessimism? I don't quite see that. I feel hopeless and pessimistic because not many in today's world would heed this book's warning against a blinkered existence (ie: ignorance) and hedonism. But perhaps I'm an individual who takes life too seriously - a self-destructive trait for one who believes in nothing.


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