Lisa's Reviews > London Fields

London Fields by Martin Amis
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really liked it
bookshelves: 1001-books-to-read-before-you-die, monster-mash-of-a-mess, unforgettable

Ha!

I did it.

I finished London Fields, after a week or so on a roller coaster, up and down, loving it, hating it, being annoyed, bored, laughing out loud, bored again. In the end, I actually caught myself crying as well, which was the last thing I expected, having worked up a genuine distaste for the book somewhere in the middle.

I don't think I have ever read a book that I could easily give either one star or five stars, and feel perfectly justified to do so. I rarely change my mind so completely several times over the course of 500 pages either.

How to sum it up? No clue. The author (as opposed to the narrator) knows how stories are made, and he can write them. He can create interesting, funny, sad, dangerous characters, and make the reader laugh out loud at the humour of his descriptions. Yes! He can do that. But he can also spin a web of betrayal and deception, telling the story from different angles, over and over again, driving the same reader that just laughed out loud to the brink of insanity.

So, it is a story of a murder. Actually, since we know all the protagonists from the start, and know that the murder will occur in the last act, I would say rather than a crime novel, it is a wordy, rambling Greek tragedy. As everyone knows the plot, the outcome and the story, the charm (if there is such a thing!) lies in the psychological development of the characters.

The murderee takes on the role of guiding us through the different acts, and in a way we witness her suicide, as she thoroughly plans her murder herself. Maybe she is the MURDERER as well, even though she is not the one actually holding the lethal weapon. But she destroyed Keith, and Guy, and Sam, and the novel, so she certainly is the femme fatale of the story, in the most literal sense of the word.

There is only one hero in the book. I did not realise what a hero he was until his heart was broken by a weak man and he lost his herculean power and completely changed his character. That's when I started crying. The hero's name is Marmaduke. The childhood of Hercules!

How am I going to rate this book?

As Martin Amis managed to quote my favourite poem from The Poems Of Wilfred Owen on the very last pages: "I am the enemy you killed, my friend", I can't give the book one star even though I was mad at it for at least 300 pages. I can't give it five stars either, because that might make other people think I'd recommend it. I don't. If you read it, it has to be on your own responsibility. I only read it because I randomly decided this summer to read three books by authors I didn't know before which featured London in the title. I did not like the first one I chose, The Lambs of London, and the jury in my head is still (passing) out on this one, so I am more than worried about the third in the chosen trio: London Orbital, which I will start when I have recovered strength from this one.

To be fair, this one is incredibly fascinating as a concept, and I AM happy that I read it (and that it is over now)! I won't forget it! And I know more about the tactics of darts (there are none), than I did before.

Here's the sinus curve of my reading itinerary:

Starting to read: Perfect first paragraph for a tired evening, after discarding any books looking remotely like intellectual struggle:

"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 a love story (I think), of all strange things, so late in the century, so late in the goddamned day.
This is the story of a murder. It hasn't happened yet. (It had better.)""

page 6
"I don't claim to make fast progress on this, but here we are, quote on page 6:

"He never had what it took to be a murderer, not on his own. He needed his murderee."

This is a VERY weird perspective, even for trained Humanities teachers who teach different angles, and personal biases for a living??"

page 34
"If the author chooses a confusing narrator, the characters can't really be blamed for their strange appearance, right? This feels like a wordy novel version of Sei personaggi in cerca d'autore - but the narrator, or author, admits to having been conned by the bad character." 1 comment

page 37
"I feel like I might be reading this book backwards, as I make so slow progress. I also vaguely suspect that I will start hating it soon, so I better write down some things I like before that:

"As for the two pigs, they were yahoos even by the standards of the yard."

Pigs as yahoos? What would the humans be then, in the universe of Gulliver's Travels? Above or below on the class ladder?"

page 41
"The poor foil Guy must be totally lost in London, if it really is a pub pretending to be a city, for he has something I did not know existed, but that I think I have always known to exist anyway (Lord, this book makes your brain spin!): he has PUB ANTICHARISMA. Is there a cure?
Does it mean London is allergic to him? Would it help if we gave London antihistamins?"

page 86
"I have discovered a major flaw in London Fields:
To enjoy the confusing story, you need a glass of dry Riesling. However, if you have a glass of Riesling, you can't follow the confusing story anymore. (Why does this make me want to reread Catch 22 all of a sudden?)

You might for example miss the fact that two consecutive chapters describe exactly the same situation, but from different characters' point of view!"

page 127
"I take back the comment that the narrator does not know what he is doing. In fact, he knows so well what he is doing that he is mingling with the murderer, murderee and foil BEFORE the murder has happened, in order to collect the materials for his murder story a priori. In fact, he is a bit impatient and wants to start chapter 7 before it has actually happened. I wonder if that makes London Fields a futuristic novel?"

page 178
"I am starting to worry about this novel. The narrator needs one of the main characters to guide the story, and discusses cutting out other characters with her. He is also seriously ill and has pressure from his publisher, who can't see how he is going to fill the middle of the novel. I agree: we all know the end, and the beginning was strong, but to go on for several hundred pages with silly cheats and darts? Really?"

page 180
"And I don't like it when the book catches me being condescending. Literally two pages after I complain about the darts storyline going on forever, I read this:
"But don't you be snooty about the darts. They matter in all this."
Well, we'll see about that. Maybe it is not a good idea to update progress on London Fields. I might be trapped in a fake plot. Should just read the whole thing and do the Caesar thumb sign."

page 237
"I am thoroughly annoyed with the work distribution in this novel by now: the narrator has dumped the whole plot development on the murderee, who has to work incredibly hard to get the other characters to move towards some kind of climax, and the murder itself is threatened by the fact, revealed very late in the day, that KEITH IS NOT EVEN GOOD AT DARTS!"

page 308
"The murderee rocks! She has decided to force the lazy narrator, murderer and foil to move forwards with the plot. Very much appreciated by the suffering reader! The fact that almost all scenes are retold several times from different perspectives to show EVERY POSSIBLE angle of the "not-yet-existing" murder story made me want to scream for about 100 pages. Now I am back where I started: I suspect a shadow of genius..."

page 400
"The world according to Keith, or maybe The Dart Gospel According To Keith:

"The trouble with darts they are no good when you are pist." (sic!)

That is a catch-22 if there ever was one! Things undoubtedly speed up a bit, thanks to the heroine who can't wait to get murdered. As a means to achieve her goal, she is now involved with everyone, playing all the available parts at the same time: virgin, whore..."

After this, I stopped updating, because the final act was such a whirlwind of emotions!
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Reading Progress

August 16, 2016 – Started Reading
August 16, 2016 – Shelved
August 16, 2016 –
page 1
0.19% "Perfect first paragraph for a tired evening, after discarding any books looking remotely like intellectual struggle:\n\n"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. \nAnd a love story (I think), of all strange things, so late in the century, so late in the goddamned day.\nThis is the story of a murder. It hasn't happened yet. (It had better.)""
August 17, 2016 –
page 1
0.19%
August 18, 2016 –
page 6
1.14% "I don't claim to make fast progress on this, but here we are, quote on page 6:\n\n"He never had what it took to be a murderer, not on his own. He needed his murderee."\n\nThis is a VERY weird perspective, even for trained Humanities teachers who teach different angles, and personal biases for a living??"
August 19, 2016 –
page 34
6.46% "If the author chooses a confusing narrator, the characters can't really be blamed for their strange appearance, right? This feels like a wordy novel version of Sei personaggi in cerca d'autore - but the narrator, or author, admits to having been conned by the bad character."
August 20, 2016 –
page 37
7.03% "I feel like I might be reading this book backwards, as I make so slow progress. I also vaguely suspect that I will start hating it soon, so I better write down some things I like before that:\n\n"As for the two pigs, they were yahoos even by the standards of the yard."\n\nPigs as yahoos? What would the humans be then, in the universe of Gulliver's Travels? Above or below on the class ladder?"
August 20, 2016 –
page 41
7.79% "The poor foil Guy must be totally lost in London, if it really is a pub pretending to be a city, for he has something I did not know existed, but that I think I have always known to exist anyway (Lord, this book makes your brain spin!): he has PUB ANTICHARISMA. Is there a cure?\nDoes it mean London is allergic to him? Would it help if we gave London antihistamins?"
August 20, 2016 –
page 86
16.35% "I have discovered a major flaw in London Fields:\nTo fully enjoy the confusing story, you need a glass of dry Riesling. However, if you have a glass of Riesling, you can't follow the confusing story anymore. (Why does this make me reread Catch 22 all of a sudden?)\n\nYou might for example miss the fact that two consecutive chapters describe exactly the same situation, but from different characters' point of view!"
August 20, 2016 –
page 86
16.35% "I have discovered a major flaw in London Fields:\nTo enjoy the confusing story, you need a glass of dry Riesling. However, if you have a glass of Riesling, you can't follow the confusing story anymore. (Why does this make me want to reread Catch 22 all of a sudden?)\n\nYou might for example miss the fact that two consecutive chapters describe exactly the same situation, but from different characters' point of view!"
August 21, 2016 –
page 127
24.14% "I take back the comment that the narrator does not know what he is doing. In fact, he knows so well what he is doing that he is mingling with the murderer, murderee and foil BEFORE the murder has happened, in order to collect the materials for his murder story a priori. In fact, he is a bit impatient and wants to start chapter 7 before it has actually happened. I wonder if that makes London Fields a futuristic novel?"
August 21, 2016 –
page 178
33.84% "I am starting to worry about this novel. The narrator needs one of the main characters to guide the story, and discusses cutting out other characters with her. He is also seriously ill and has pressure from his publisher, who can't see how he is going to fill the middle of the novel. I agree: we all know the end, and the beginning was strong, but to go on for several hundred pages with silly cheats and darts? Really?"
August 21, 2016 –
page 180
34.22% "And I don't like it when the book catches me being condescending. Literally two pages after I complain about the darts storyline going on forever, I read this:\n"But don't you be snooty about the darts. They matter in all this."\nWell, we'll see about that. Maybe it is not a good idea to update progress on London Fields. I might be trapped in a fake plot. Should just read the whole thing and do the Caesar thumb sign."
August 22, 2016 –
page 237
45.06% "I am thoroughly annoyed with the work distribution in this novel by now: the narrator has dumped the whole plot development on the murderee, who has to work incredibly hard to get the other characters to move towards some kind of climax, and the murder itself is threatened by the fact, revealed very late in the day, that KEITH IS NOT EVEN GOOD AT DARTS!"
August 23, 2016 –
page 308
58.56% "The murderee rocks! She has decided to force the lazy narrator, murderer and foil to move forwards with the plot. Very much appreciated by the suffering reader! The fact that almost all scenes are retold several times from different perspectives to show EVERY POSSIBLE angle of the "not-yet-existing" murder story made me want to scream for about 100 pages. Now I am back where I started: I suspect a shadow of genius..."
August 25, 2016 –
page 400
76.05% "The world according to Keith, or maybe The Dart Gospel According To Keith:\n\n"The trouble with darts they are no good when you are pist." (sic!)\n\nThat is a catch-22 if there ever was one! Things undoubtedly speed up a bit, thanks to the heroine who can't wait to get murdered. As a means to achieve her goal, she is now involved with everyone, playing all the available parts at the same time: virgin, whore..."
August 26, 2016 – Shelved as: 1001-books-to-read-before-you-die
August 27, 2016 – Finished Reading
December 13, 2016 – Shelved as: monster-mash-of-a-mess
December 13, 2016 – Shelved as: unforgettable

Comments Showing 1-30 of 30 (30 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

Lisa Thank you Jean-Paul! My first impulse was to just write a very useful Canadian word I recently learned from a Goodreads friend:

"Eh?"

Then I realised I actually liked disliking the book so much, it deserved at least some (oxy)moronic evaluation. A cautionary tale, so to say: "Beware of the big bad Amis!"


message 2: by Dolors (new)

Dolors Loved to see the evolving process, the ups and downs you went through with this book, Lisa. It somehow reminds me of my own experience with Laxenss' character Bjartur in Independent People, who provoked similar (in their disparity) emotions to yours.


Violet wells You took me back to reading this myself - the irritation, the excitement, the bewilderment, the recognition and the final sweep of the benefit of all doubts.


message 4: by Ray (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ray Thanks for this. Sounds like a real roller coaster of a read. Any book that moves us emotionally must be a good book in my view


Lisa Dolors wrote: "Loved to see the evolving process, the ups and downs you went through with this book, Lisa. It somehow reminds me of my own experience with Laxenss' character Bjartur in [book:Independent People|77..."

Thank you, Dolors! That was actually my first thought when I read your excellent review of Independent People: some books take you through the whole spectrum of possible reactions. Both London Fields and Independent People had that effect on me, but it was more violent in this one!


Lisa Ray wrote: "Thanks for this. Sounds like a real roller coaster of a read. Any book that moves us emotionally must be a good book in my view"

Thank you, Ray, couldn't agree more!


Lisa Violet wrote: "You took me back to reading this myself - the irritation, the excitement, the bewilderment, the recognition and the final sweep of the benefit of all doubts."

Thank you Violet! As a reader, I felt that this time it was worth it to see it through until the end, and that it made sense and felt good to have gone through the cycle completely, even the annoying parts.


message 8: by Ilse (new) - added it

Ilse What an entertaining recount of this extraordinary reading experience, Lisa - and thanks for the warning that one needs plenty of time and patience with this one to be highly rewarded :).


message 9: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala Very entertaining review, Lisa - and the updates are brilliant - they make a great reading story!
You've almost convinced me to reread this book as it sounds like it is much more complexly plotted than I remember - and with the kind of complexities I enjoy. It's years since I read it and all I can remember clearly is Keith and the suburban wilderness in which he lived. I'd forgotten the darts complexity! And Marmaduke. But the murderee, yes, I do remember her...


message 10: by Lisa (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lisa Ilse wrote: "What an entertaining recount of this extraordinary reading experience, Lisa - and thanks for the warning that one needs plenty of time and patience with this one to be highly rewarded :)."

Thanks Ilse! As I said, I feel I can't recommend it without putting up some warning signs here and there :-) But it is very interesting!


message 11: by Lisa (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lisa Fionnuala wrote: "Very entertaining review, Lisa - and the updates are brilliant - they make a great reading story!
You've almost convinced me to reread this book as it sounds like it is much more complexly plotted..."


Yes, Fionnuala, Marmaduke... I don't know why it broke my heart when his wild terror disappeared. I just realised there and then what innocent life power he had had before.


Nicola I loved London Fields! My first (and so far only) Martin Amis, but I'm eyeing up Money...


message 13: by Lisa (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lisa Nicola wrote: "I loved London Fields! My first (and so far only) Martin Amis, but I'm eyeing up Money..."

I did end up loving this despite myself as well, and at some point, I will try another one as well. I will follow your readings of Money with great interest...


message 14: by Kevin (new) - added it

Kevin Ansbro Such an intriguing review, Lisa. You took me on a journey; I loved the running notes (plus the insight into your thought process).
In fact, so intriguing was your review that I'm going to add this book under the header of 'as per Lisa's intriguing review'!
Great work, Lisa.


message 15: by Lisa (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lisa Kevin wrote: "Such an intriguing review, Lisa. You took me on a journey; I loved the running notes (plus the insight into your thought process).
In fact, so intriguing was your review that I'm going to add this ..."


Oh wow, thank you Kevin! You did read the warning as well, I hope? For about 300 pages, I was raging mad at the book, and might have started throwing it at whoever recommended it to me... In the end, it was very, very stimulating, though. You know a book has an impact when you keep relating to it all the time in later reading...


message 16: by Jennifer (new) - added it

Jennifer I haven't been able to decide whether to read this but it's been on my radar for months. I love your comment about feeling as if you were reading it backwards because progress was so slow. That is exactly how I felt when I read Amis's novel "Money." That book took me forever and I couldn't tell from one day to the next if I hated it or loved it. In the end I gave it five stars. So bizarre.


message 17: by Lisa (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lisa Jennifer wrote: "I haven't been able to decide whether to read this but it's been on my radar for months. I love your comment about feeling as if you were reading it backwards because progress was so slow. That is ..."

That is precisely my experience as well, Jennifer! Maybe we should read the next Martin Amis to see if we are more patient during the ride? I will pick Money then...


Glenn Russell What an outstanding review, Lisa! So glad you really got into this novel. I found it to be so riveting yet exhausting. I had to knock off reading novels for some time after finishing this one and writing my own review. What an author Martin Amis is. Of course he had a bit of a head start having Kingsley Amis for a dad.


message 19: by Lisa (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lisa Glenn wrote: "What an outstanding review, Lisa! So glad you really got into this novel. I found it to be so riveting yet exhausting. I had to knock off reading novels for some time after finishing this one and w..."

Thank you, Glenn! I loved your review of the book. It is funny how most people have this strange relationship to it, like a pendulum movement back and forth. I only realised that I actually liked it when I continued to think about it long after finishing it.
And yes, it must have been a special feeling to start writing, having a father of that format. I wonder if it even is an advantage? Must have felt intimidating as well?


message 20: by Jan-Maat (new)

Jan-Maat "I have discovered a major flaw in London Fields:
To enjoy the confusing story, you need a glass of dry Riesling. However, if you have a glass of Riesling, you can't follow the confusing story anymore. (Why does this make me want to reread Catch 22 all of a sudden?)

try substituting the Riesling for a glass of London Pride or maybe one of those fancy Gins that are allegedly being cooked up in micro distilleries these days, no idea if they would provide a break through, but might be more appropriate?


message 21: by Lisa (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lisa Jan-Maat wrote: " "I have discovered a major flaw in London Fields:
To enjoy the confusing story, you need a glass of dry Riesling. However, if you have a glass of Riesling, you can't follow the confusing story any..."


I will try a beer next time I embark on a novel by Martin Amis, even though I am not much of a beer drinker, generally speaking. But one of the main characters, Keith, swore on the correlation between the right amount of beer and success at darts. Not that I am much into darts either, but next time I am in London, I will stray from my comfort zone for the sake of understanding literature.


message 22: by Jan-Maat (new)

Jan-Maat careful, next thing you'll know you'll take up darts and grow a noble little beer belly all of your own!


message 23: by Lisa (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lisa Jan-Maat wrote: "careful, next thing you'll know you'll take up darts and grow a noble little beer belly all of your own!"

Oh dear! Then my fairy tales would be on the heavy side, and the magic all stuck. That won't do at all. Come to think of it, maybe too much London Pride made Amis tell the same story over and over, from different characters' view?


message 24: by Jan-Maat (new)

Jan-Maat Dart playing spoils fairy tales? The thing I learn..:)


message 25: by Lisa (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lisa Jan-Maat wrote: "Dart playing spoils fairy tales? The thing I learn..:)"

I didn't mean the darts. I meant the beer belly, the darts are playful enough to pass the fairy test, I think.


message 26: by Toqa (new) - added it

Toqa What's Martin Amis message ?


message 27: by Jaline (new)

Jaline Terrific review, Lisa! The excerpts were great and I laughed so hard at our jury (passing) out! :D


message 28: by Lisa (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lisa Jaline wrote: "Terrific review, Lisa! The excerpts were great and I laughed so hard at our jury (passing) out! :D"

Thanks, Jaline! It was a bit of a rollercoaster. A teensger among literary experiences: mood changes each moment, rambling next to beautiful thoughts...


message 29: by Steven (new) - added it

Steven Godin I have yet to read Amis, this seems a good place to start, whenever that time comes.


message 30: by Lisa (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lisa Steven wrote: "I have yet to read Amis, this seems a good place to start, whenever that time comes."

Oh my goodness - I had forgotten my wrestling with Keith, evrn though he absorbed pretty much all of my energy when I read London Fields. Would love your take on this one, Steven!


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