Friday, February 09, 2007

Banville on Amis

In December, I used the occasion of Daniel Soar's extremely negative review of Martin Amis' new novel, House of Meetings, to write a little about how and why I've drifted away from Amis in recent years. On balance, Soar's review appears to be the exception to the rule. The new issue of The New York Review of Books features another positive review, this one from John Banville (just to be gratuitous, here again is his famous pan of Ian McEwan's Saturday, which I've linked to more than once). I still don't expect to read the novel any time soon, but Banville is one of my favorite writers, and his review is very interesting and has definitely increased the likelihood that I'll read it at all (link by way of Jenny Davidson). Banville's conclusion:
House of Meetings is a rich mixture, all the richer for being so determinedly compressed. In fewer than 250 taut but wonderfully allusive, powerful pages Amis has painted an impressively broad canvas, and achieved a telling depth of perspective. The first-person voice here possesses an authority that is new in Amis's work. It is as if in all of his books he has been preparing for this one. In his depiction of a nation stumbling, terrified and terrifying, through rivers of its own, self-spilt blood, he delivers a judgment upon a time—our time— the spectacle of which, if it had been but glimpsed by the great figures of the Enlightenment on whose reasonings and hopes the modern world is founded, would have struck them silent with horror. Stalin and Stalin's Russia have provided Martin Amis with a subject worthy of his vision of a world which, as Joseph de Maistre has it, is "nothing but an immense altar on which every living thing must be immolated without end, without restraint, without respite, until the consummation of the world, until the extinction of evil, until the death of death," and in which, in the cruelest of Wildean ironies, the victims of tyranny survive to become tyrants in their turn, destroying even those whom they love most dearly. It is a bleak vision, assuredly, yet as always in the case of a true work of art, our encounter with Amis's dystopia is ultimately invigorating.

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