Book of a lifetime: Money, By Martin Amis

 

I was 18 when I read this, in the first year of my English degree, and, more than anything else, it made me want to become a writer. I can still remember reading the first page, in the eighth floor library at Glasgow University. I'd picked it up, I think, because I'd seen an interview with Amis in the NME, of all places. I can quote that opening line from memory: "As my cab pulled off FDR Drive, somewhere in the early Hundreds, a low-slung Tomahawk full of black guys came sharking out of lane and sloped in fast right across our bows."

We were in America for sure, maybe New York? I didn't know. I hadn't been to New York. I hadn't been anywhere. A Tomahawk? Was that a real car? And as for "sharking out of lane" to describe cutting someone up? Woah. I felt what Nabokov described as "that tell-tale tingle between the shoulder blades", the feeling that you are encountering something truly great.

I was stunned by the incredible assurance in the voice of John Self, Money's narrator. You were going to listen to this guy and fuck you. (Many years later I tried to bring this exact quality to Steven Stelfox, the narrator of my debut novel Kill Your Friends.) I was also flooded with the sensation Amis later said he experienced when he first read Saul Bellow - the instant knowledge that this was a writer by whom you are going to have to read everything. And I have. I find the Amis-bashing of recent years increasingly puzzling.

Obviously, if you have a career that spans five decades and 20-plus books, then some are going to be more successful than others. I didn't think Night Train quite came off, but I loved Yellow Dog. And I'd have been very sad not to have the following exchange from Lionel Asbo, where geopolitics are shone through the prism of the pub brawler: "Iraq? What happened was all these blokes with J-cloths on their heads flew some planes into – " "But 9/11 had nothing to do with the Iraq War."

"Look, America's Top Boy. He's the Daddy. And when a liberty like 9/11 happens the Daddy lashes out."

"Yeah, but who at?"

"Don't matter. Anyone'll do."

Amis said that when reading Bellow he often had to remind himself that the author was born in 1915, not 1950. Such was the freshness and vitality of Bellow's prose. Similarly, reading Amis today I always feel slightly astonished to remember that that he was born in 1949, and not 1979. I'm not even sure that Money is my favourite Amis novel anymore. I'd make a strong case for The Information, or Time's Arrow. But this was where it all began for me. This was it.

John Niven's new novel is 'Straight White Male' (Heinemann)

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones