BROADCASTING: IT WAS 15 YEARS AGO TODAY Amis dispatches amoral Money

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The Independent Culture
On 27 September, 1984, the fifth novel by Martin Amis - Money - was published. Set in 1981, with inner-city riots and a royal wedding as points of topical reference, it tracks the cash-fuelled lifestyle of John Self, a producer of trashy commercials, and a cultural philistine. As he shuttles back and forth between London and New York to set up his first feature (entitled either Good Money, or Bad Money), his first-person narrative is more concerned with his addictions - booze, fags, sex, pornography, and junk food - and their gratification. A writer called Martin Amis even makes a few appearances, and is enlisted by Self to sort out his screenplay.

Despite its obnoxious narrator, Money was seductive. The critics hailed Amis's prose and the success of his modern amorality tale.

"An intricate, highly wrought and fully self-conscious fiction," said the Times. "The writing continually outgrows any plausible Self frame of reference, and yet leaves his essential ignorance intact." The Observer called it "a brilliantly frightening novel, grim, accusatory, damnably efficient and totally devoid of such outworn properties as charm".

The Sunday Times thought that Amis had "the sort of imagination which, if it broke out on his skin, would land him in an isolation ward before you could say 'surgical rubberware'". Amis's concept of evil was compared to that of a "flagellant monk": "the lumbering monsters of his fiction ... bring to mind the deformed pageants of the Seven Deadly Sins in medieval literature". The Telegraph warned that "the delicate-minded may find the texture of the prose too gross to bear, the impatient will find its measured unravelling too slyly aware to endure. (They should persist)". "The nastiness is sympathetic, the vice enticing," said the Times Literary Supplement. "There is a News of the World duplicity (though Amis never makes an excuse and leaves the room)." Though the Guardian thought that "Wanker's Doom might be an apter title", it claimed that it offered "a definitive account of how the current world of funny money slavery looks in Reagan's America and Thatcher's Britain".

D J Taylor, the novelist and critic whose survey of Eighties fiction, A Vain Conceit, was published in 1989, says: "Money was the one contemporary novel I really rated." Amis's "attention to minor details" meant that "although much of it was way, way over the top, somehow it didn't matter because of the ferociousness and accuracy of the attack". At a time when the cultural debate centred on Europe, the novel was "a pontoon bridge between England and America," says Taylor. "Amis understood that the really important connections with English cultural life were over there. It's head and shoulders above everything else he's ever done. I've lost patience with him now, but whenever I want to remind myself how brilliant he can be, I go back to Money."

Early in Money, Self sees "Amis" in the street and muses: "I don't think they can pay writers that much, do you?" In 1995, Amis caused uproar in the literary world when he secured a pounds 500,000 advance on his novel The Information.

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