Book of a lifetime: Money, By Martin Amis
Friday 23 August 2013
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)
TVJamie's Sugar Rush reveal's campaigning chef's new foe
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 What marriage would look like if we actually followed the Bible
- 2 President Obama leaves touching comment on Humans of New York photo from Iran
- 3 If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
- 4 The Chinese city where men have 'three girlfriends because there are so many women'
- 5 'Heartbreaking' Syria orphan photo wasn't taken in Syria and not of orphan
The Gamechangers trailer: Daniel Radcliffe stars in GTA movie
Star Wars: New action dolls launched on Force Friday ahead of The Force Awakens release
Joan Aiken: Today's Google Doodle celebrates life of British fantasy novelist
Photographer captures the beauty and intensity of his girlfriend giving birth at home
Everything extra JK Rowling has revealed about Harry Potter
Britain to take more refugees as Cameron bows to pressure after more than 250,000 back our campaign
Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
Make your voice heard: Sign The Independent's petition to welcome refugees