cover image London Fields

London Fields

Martin Amis. Harmony, $19.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-517-57718-9

Amis has been writing dark, sardonically powerful novels ( Money ; Success ) over the past 10 years, but this hugely ambitious, apocalyptic vision of moldering lives in a London tottering on the edge of extinction leaps far beyond them. Relentlessly bitter, often brutally funny, hypnotically readable, it may also be quite opaque in places to an American readership. It is the convoluted tale of Nicola Six, a brilliant femme fatale convinced that she will be killed by one of two men she has brought into her life, men who are at once wonderfully created characters and figures strongly symbolic of two aspects of the British psyche: Keith Talent, scabrous petty crook, compulsive fornicator, racist and sexist, lost to all shades of human feeling except a passion for darts, a pub game at which he aspires to be a champion; and Guy Clinch, a hereditarily wealthy, well-mannered but terminally inhibited man whose basic decency seems irrelevant to the world of Nicola and Keith. There is also a narrator in the persona of the novelist himself; he writes actual chapters meditating on his characters and the progress of the story--interpolations which could have been fatal to the narrative but are so skillfully interwoven that they become part of its grim, headlong texture. There are also two charmingly portrayed babies--Keith's, an angelic, suffering little girl; and Guy's Marmaduke, a horrendously violent infant who eats nannies for breakfast--outstanding among a cast of Dickensian richness and variety. What may keep the book from being as successful on this side of the Atlantic as at home (it was for weeks Britain's No. 1 bestseller) is its density of British references--the language (Keith's is stunningly mimicked), the pub atmosphere, the London geography--and the palpable sense of doom Amis evokes for the city as the millennium nears and the sun sinks ever lower. But adventurous readers will be thrilled by the book's somber passion, its virtuoso style and daring range. (Mar.)