Book #67: Money
Money is one of the wildest novels I’ve ever read. Pardon the literary cliché, but it’s a roller coaster ride from start to finish.
The novel is such a romp that I don’t even know where to start reviewing it.
Let’s just say that Money is told from the point of view of the classic unreliable narrator. John Self is a raging alcoholic. In fact, it wouldn’t be out of line to say that he is drunk through probably 90% of the novel.
He battles other addictions, like sex and cigarettes. At one point, Self even says, “Unless I specifically inform you otherwise, assume I am always smoking another cigarette.”
The man is a narcissistic basket case. He’s a jerk, a man of terrible morals, but Martin Amis almost, almost, almost makes you like him because of his sense of humor and self-awareness.
The loose plot follows Self–an ad writer by trade– as he hops back and forth between London and New York City, working on the screenplay for a Hollywood Film called Bad Money.
Self (and, obviously, Martin Amis) pack more zingy one-liners in Money than in any novel I’ve read. The humor is cutting, self-deprecatory, and harsh.
Self is infatuated with his on-again and off-again girlfriend, Selina. He’s constantly negotiating with high-maintainance actors and actresses over the most ridiculous points of the film script.
The star actor, Lorne Guyland (based on Kirk Douglas) is obsessed with his own nude body. This passages give you an idea:
The script conference ended with Lorne shrugging his robe to the floor and asking me, with tears in his eyes, ‘Is this the body of an old man?’ I said nothing. The answer to Lorne’s question, incidentally, was yes. I just flourished an arm and clattered down the stairs. Thursday gave me a tight smile as she opened the door. ‘Is he nude?’ she asked coldly.
‘Yeah he’s nude.’
‘Oh boy,’ said Thursday.
I can’t even begin to articulate how graphically sexual this novel is. John Self is into porn, prostitutes, and anything closely associated with either.
Several cringe-worthy passages made me put the book down briefly and revisit it later. That was rough. But, then, two pages later, I would encounter a passage about an actor demanding nude scenes or something similar that made me laugh out loud.
That’s what I mean when I refer to the book as a “romp” and a “roller-coaster ride.” It’s brutal. But, yet, I can’t help but like Money in some sort of weird, twisted way.
Why? It’s entertaining. And, yes, Maximus, I LIKE BEING ENTERTAINED!
Is Money a self-indulgent novel? A bit, yes. Martin Amis includes himself as a minor, recurring character in the book. And the writing, though meticulously written, feels forced at times. Sometimes, I felt as if Amis is trying to be too witty.
So there’s that.
At times, the novel feels like a coherent story. At other times, it feels like a rant, just one giant R-rated observation on life in the civilized world in the 20th Century.
If I had to sum up Money in 3 words, I would simply say: “Liquor. Porn. Prostitutes.” What a lovely novel, eh?
And I know, I know. It seems so hypocritical of me, the guy who railed against Lolita and Portnoy’s Complaint, mainly on moral grounds, to say I enjoyed this novel. And maybe it is hypocritical of me to say I enjoyed this novel, with all its vulgarity.
But yet I did, and I can’t deny that or try to filter it.
To me, this passage captures one of the novels core themes succinctly:
“I gestured at my litre of fizzy red wine. “Want a drop of this?” I asked him.
No thanks. I try not to drink at lunchtime.”
So do I. But I never quite make it.”
I feel like shit all day if I drink at lunchtime.”
Me too. But I feel like shit all lunchtime if I don’t.”
Yes, well it all comes down to choices, doesn’t it?” he said. “It’s the same in the evenings. Do you want to feel good at night or do you want to feel good in the morning? It’s the same with life. Do you want to feel good young or do you want to feel good old? One or the other, not both.”
Isn’t it a tragedy?”
Money is a tragic comedy about…you guessed it, money. John Self is imprisoned in a culture that worships money. The novel is well titled.
It’s a funny novel, not without its shortcomings—the vulgarity and Amis’s self-indulgence, for example. But even with all the crap, I thought it was a good read and I would recommend it, as long as you’re mentally able to bathe with the pigs for a little while.
The Opening Line: “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.”
The Meaning: Money. Money. Money. Money is all about…money. Or at least John Self’s pursuit of it as a Hollywood screenwriter. In all his humor and self-deprecation, John Self is actually a very sad man. Amis is outstanding at letting Self tell his story through his own unreliable viewpoint.
Highlights: The high point of Money has to be the voice of its narrator. In one word: brilliant. John Self has one of the more distinctive styles as a narrator you will encounter. The man is unreliable, dirty, and somehow (slightly) loveable all at the same time.
Lowlights: Sometimes you are too aware that Martin Amis wrote this novel, like, when a character named “Martin Amis” appears in said novel. Sometimes you just want Amis to get out of the way a little. Also, the graphical sexual content of the book could be a downer for some. There’s a lot of it.
Memorable Line: There are so, so many, but ultimately I chose this one: “The exhaustion of not knowing anything. It’s so tiring and hard on the nerves. It really takes it out of you, not knowing anything. You’re given comedy and miss all the jokes. Every hour you get weaker. Sometimes, as I sit alone in my flat in London and stare at the window, I think how dismal it is, how heavy, to watch the rain and not know why it falls.”
Final Thoughts: Money, the novel, is not for everyone. I’m not even sure if it’s for me, but I liked it. I’m putting Martin Amis’s London Fields on my to-read list. As a writer, I love his voice, even though his voice is frickin’ dirtier than pig sty. I’d recommend this novel if you’re not easily offended by vulgarity, vulgarity, and more vulgarity. It’s an extremely entertaining and funny, though vulgar, read.