Monday, 2 June 2008

Father and Son: you can't do both; night train.

The rain has taken over and I've let it. In the past week I've finished You Can't Do Both by Kingsley Amis, and Night Train by Martin Amis. Very different novels, indeed, by Father and Son.

In You Can't Do Both we are taken into various stages of the first half of life for Robin Davies: firstly as a fourteen-year old adolescent being controlled by his over-bearing Father, chasing his second cousin while on holiday and being cracked onto by the older homosexual Jeremy; secondly as an Oxford undergraduate enjoying his first sexual encounters and meeting Nancy, who is "not the right sort of girl to persuade to follow his confounded intentions"; thirdly returning on leave from the war to find that Jeremy has been jailed for his conscientious objection and near-jailed for misbehaving with an Australian solider, getting Nancy pregnant, trying for an (illegal) abortion, changing their minds and getting married in a registry office; then fourthly, at age 35, cheating an Oxford academic, cheating on Nancy when he can get away, but finally caught and told that You Can't Do Both.

Now I've pretty much said it all there, in terms of plot, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Apparently it's "strongly" autobiographical which may explain the insightful "real"-ness that carries through. However nothing can explain the brilliant, humorous prose except that it's by Kingsley Amis.

And then, the Night Train. Well haven't I just read some scathing reviews, although I can't say I agree with them. This is a very short novel at 149 pages. It is a mystery narrated by the American female detective "Mike" Hoolihan, concerning herself with the why of her superior's daughter's suicide. The novel is dark but that doesn't budge me in this case, having read much longer and darker Amis such as Money and London Fields. To me it is more philosophical, dealing with life, with death, with homicide, with suicide. And the fact that sometimes, in life as in astrophysics (or religion?), we must accept that we have no answers. Well that's just my interpretation. But perhaps the important sentence is on the third-last page, before Hoolihan calls her superior to deliver a fake verdict, full of all of the lies, the decoys:

"Sir, your daughter didn't have motives. She just had standards. High ones. Which we didn't meet."

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