cover image The Information

The Information

Martin Amis. Harmony, $24 (374pp) ISBN 978-0-517-58516-0

Amis's new novel caused a considerable stir in Britain when the author left his longtime agent and publisher and entered a frantic auction process that left him with little financial gain and a lot of adverse publicity. It is, however, no reflection on the quality of the book, which is a flawed but often brilliantly funny creation built on a surefire idea: an author who can do nothing right, whose best friend and old college chum can do nothing wrong. Richard Tull has written three experimental novels, each more obscure and unreadable than the last (the last, in fact, despairingly called simply Untitled, causes instant migraines and eyestrain among all--including Tull's new agent--who attempt to read it). Gwyn Barry, on the other hand, has scored international bestsellerdom with a simple-minded, relentlessly upbeat fable about an ideal world; the publishing industry has thrown itself at his feet. Tull, who makes ends meet by relentless reviewing of hefty biographies of nobodies, and by moonlighting at a vanity publisher, wants nothing more in life than to right the balance. He undertakes to write a profile of Gwyn, which he intends to load with spleen, tries to introduce him to a manic teenage nympho, concocts a plagiarism plot and even gets in touch with the inimitable Scozzy, whose specialty is hurting people, only to have the plan backfire on himself in a cinema lavatory. Still Gwyn's artistic and commercial star continues to soar (though even his aristocratic wife concedes ``He can't write for toffee''). The Information is endlessly inventive, full of dazzling riffs on language, on popular culture (a book tour in America is a small comic masterpiece in itself). But it has ambitions considerably beyond being just tough-mindedly delectable comedy. Amis keeps giving his tale shots of (sometimes quite literal) cosmic significance, and his writing is sometimes too intense for the intended blackly comic tone. In the midst of his facile biliousness are passages of baffled tenderness, about children and animals, that throw the book quite off balance. Despite its unevenness, however, it is blisteringly readable, throws off constant sparks of rueful recognition for anyone in the book business--and, its comic essence extracted, would make a marvelously funny movie. First serial to the New Yorker; BOMC and QPB alternates; $150 limited edition; author tour. (May)