BOOK REVIEW / Confessions of a failed revenger

THE INFORMATION Martin Amis Flamingo £15.99

The grown-up Martin Amis, the man in the world, the father (the father with a father: imagine looking across the lunch table and seeing Kingsley as your future), has been having a torrid time. A publicly torrid time: ticked off by the Thatcherite dragon lady, AS Byatt, then shmoozed by Melvyn Bragg. Between a justified fury and a soft place. And, all the while, there's this ticking in his head; the vulture, the crow, scratching at the sawdust of mortality. Martin's teeth, the jawbone of a writer, a matter of debate in the prints. He's pictured as one of the gnomes of Zurich for holding out his bowl for a spoonful of Murdoch's gruel. For a wage that would make any self-respecting orthodontist blush. Not worth leaving the golf-course for that sort of small change.

You can't switch off the information, that's the curse; no way of killing the authorial "pilot light". The writer is always on, he's wired. Sweating on a mattress, waiting for the self-addressed brown envelope with the black border: "Time's up, you're dead, forgotten." It's a warriorlike destiny being a career smoker, a career hermit - locked away like a Kafka bug when the world is happening elsewhere. The trick then is to outflank time, to make the language so elegant and speedy that time will leave you alone, not notice you, the geek at the desk. You stay still, the recluse in William Hope Hodgson's The House on the Borderland, while the cosmos turns to dust.

The Information is macerated in two substances: information you don't want and "trex", the dreck, the grunge from which we weave our lives. A number of characters, cartoons (cartoons of cartoons), busy themselves at the fringe of the action, scraping the trex off their shoes, but they are camouflage; the project is solipsistic. The project is Me. MA. Martin Amis. The noble squalor of the wordsmith divided against himself. Richard Tull ("Rich-at-all?"), grubber, virtuoso of envy, failed revenger, and Gwyn Barry, an overrewarded nothing, Oxford's most successful import from the Welsh valleys since Howard Marks or Woy Jenkins. As with Ben Jonson's humours, the names are the men. Tull(e), "a thin, machine-made net of acetate, nylon, rayon" - and Gwyn Barry, with the reversible moniker of a Sixties crimper, answering to the location of a low-rent funfair around the corner from Cardiff.

The women are all on day release from Dennis Potter television plays. Their names - Gina, Belladonna - not so much the names of Potter characters as of the actresses who play them. Which seems very appropriate. They gamely squeeze into other women's costumes.

They provoke, exasperate, provide a shoulder to cry on; do the stuff that women do. Tull makes quite a production out of this nocturnal blubbing - temper tantrums and standard, run of the millennium, death-of-the-sun frets and fevers. Gravity has got him, turned his tongue to anthracite. He's rancid, stuffed with too many bad biographies. He's living in a Whitehall farce. He'd like it to be a tragicomedy, so he invokes Beckett, Borges, Evelyn Waugh. He does the English country-house weekend routine. He associates with post-Yardie freelance bother squads. And gets the chat spot-on. He's a part-time anthropologist of the metropolitan scene, terrified of becoming one of those old men with a suitcase in a callbox. The legion of the "reforgotten", the unread. An insomniac, he doesn't count sheep, he counts Powys brothers.

The Information has been seen as the conclusion of a London trilogy that opened with Money and London Fields - but that argument doesn't stand up. They're all the same book, a template worked over three times, retyped rather than rewritten. (Just as Tull tries to denounce Barry as a plagiarist by producing a pseudo ur-text of his best-selling novel.) These books engage with London on the level of style journalism: fashions, lingo, indoor sport, the entropy catalogue. Dosed with significant weather and cosmology implants. Material the poets, who are at the bottom of the pecking order, were exploiting 20 years ago. Amis is an authentic dandy, an intelligence who has to live with boredom, the demands of narrative, the necessity of walking some character across the room and out of a door. Which is why his prose works best in kit form, as a sample, a promo. He is the apotheosis of Granta Man. The Information reads like 500 pages of smart, highly finished extracts. It doesn't add up. It's a Herbie Hide of a novel, a pumped cruiserweight, flashy, fast, brave and hopelessly overmatched.

The American picaresque which provides the book's central section satirises things that are beyond satire. There's nothing more that needs to be said about a culture that can come up with Newt Gingrich. But America is where the money is - and the teeth. Chicago, Bellow's turf, like a gleaming lakeside denture. Amis has to prove himself against the professionals, the Updikes. But he's been reading the wrong Americans. Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49, that miraculously balanced essay on the paranoid, does everything The Information attempts, and more, in just over a hundred pages. Douglas Woolf's The Timing Chain, with its delicate and ironic account of an author's visit to his publisher, makes Amis's version look leaden-footed.

The writer who stands in the way of Amis's claim to be the laureate of Notting Hill is the protean Falstaff of late-century English literature: Michael Moorcock. A man who has worked as a Sexton Blake hack, an anthologist, a retriever of lost reputations, a self-plagiarist and a fabulous assembler of urban mythologies.

Amis is something less than this, a talent; a journalist's writer, great copy, a journalist's idea of what a writer should be. In the real London, in the smoke, writers don't exist. Books don't exist. In London Fields, in the pub with that name, he's unknown. Less than a face. But that could soon change. Perhaps with the move to Murdoch's evil empire, he'll become the literary tub. One of the blue-chip air terminal gondolas racked alongside his stablemates - Lord Archer and Lady Thatcher. Something sky commuters pick up to keep the fear at bay. Until then I'll stick with the idea that Amis has written the wrong book. Nick Leeson (Dick Lesion?), that's the story he should have done. It could have been another Bonfire of the Vanities.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture