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London Fields (Anglais) Broché – 3 juin 1999


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Extrait

Excerpted from the Introduction


I N T R O D U C T I O N

 Death is killing me.
 
. . .  this is London;  and there are no fields. Only fields of operation and observation, only fields of electromagnetic attraction and repulsion, only fields of hatred and coercion.
 
London Fields was published in September 1989. It did not foresee a long future for the planet. The novel is set in 1999, ten years on, and doomsday is predicted to arrive in January 2000. There remain, over the blazing hot September/October months which the narrative covers, only a few weeks before what is vaguely called the ‘Crisis’, or ‘Totality’, heralded by a total eclipse and terminal darkness. ‘Countdown to catastrophe’ is the novel’s time-frame.
 
But what kind of catastrophe? It’s not clear what form the rider of the ad 2000 apocalypse will take – nor, oddly, does the novel seem much to care. A colliding asteroid perhaps. Or a new alignment of the sun, itself going through a crisis of solar supergranulation, its evil rays glimmering through ominously ‘dead clouds’. A voracious black hole may be swirling towards the solar system invisibly, sucking into its vortex light, heat and soon planet earth as well. The authorities have scheduled a ‘cathartic’ exchange of nuclear weaponry. It is all up in the air. As the sandwich-men used vaguely to proclaim, the end of the world is ‘nigh’. Very nigh. But, as one of the characters in the novel puts it, ‘Life goes on innit’. For a month or two.
 
London Fields is the second part of Amis’s so-called ‘London Trilogy’ The man who is ‘tired of London’, said Samuel Johnson, is ‘tired of life’. Martin Amis would seem to be extremely tired. Amisian London is the suppurating bubo of a plague planet: a city where the tap water ‘had passed at least twice through every granny’. Weather forecasts are so horrific that they are broadcast late at night, after the children have gone to bed. The city is bathed in the corrupt ‘afterglow of empire’, as lingeringly poisonous as radioactive half-life. ‘And this also’, says Conrad’s Marlow in Heart of Darkness, looking down the Thames towards the great luminous city, ‘has been one of the dark places of the earth.’ In London Fields it is again a dark place – terminally dark.
 
Like D. H. Lawrence (a writer alluded to in London Fields) Amis sees the great tree of life, Yggdrasil, as dead to the roots in England. It can never grow again. But unlike Lawrence – who, after the First World War, embarked on his ‘passionate pilgrimage’ round the world to discover vitalities in places untouched by the catastrophe (largely where men did not wear trousers) – there is nowhere to go in Amis’s blighted world. ‘Totality’ means just that. It’s all over. Goodnight planet earth. And good riddance.
 
In a teasing foreword ‘M.A.’ confides to the prospective reader that he passed sleepless nights before coming up with the title. For those who know the city, particularly those who have house-hunted in it, forget any topographical association with the actual London Fields, E8  (Hackney). That location never crops up in the narrative. The novel’s action is centred on the other side of the city, around Portobello Road and its W11 environs – Amis’s stamping ground in the 1980 s. The other main candidate title was, we are told, Millennium  – but Amis finally judged it to be too hackneyed. ‘Everything is called Millennium just now’ (in Germany, one is told, the novel was retitled 1999).
 
What, then, did Amis intend us to understand by ‘London Fields’? A main allusion, one suspects, is to Falstaff  ’s babbling about ‘green fields’ on his deathbed. The verdant fields evoke ‘London like it used to be’. Pre-urban. Urban London destroys fields. That’s its reason for being. The city aims to extend itself, with concrete, steel, tarmac, bricks, glass and garbage, ‘right up to the rocks and the cliff s and the water’. You will no more find green fields in modern London than undergrowth and men with smocks and crooks in Shepherd’s Bush, or herons over Herne Hill, or cows munching contentedly outside Chalk Farm tube station. Peter Kemp, an astute commentator on London Fields, sees it as a ‘pastoral title savagely inappropriate to its inner-city setting, [which] vibrates, like all Amis’s work, with the force fields of sinister, destructive energies’.
 
Amis, finally unburdened of his tedious ‘enfant terrible ’ epithet, was forty years old when London Fields saw print in 1989. Life begins at that age, says the dubious proverb. The number is not something that gave Martin Amis new pleasure in life. In interviews given around the cross-over period he confided that ‘the message has got through’. He was mortal and racked by the fact. ‘When middle age comes, you think you’re dying all the time’, his forty-something narrator bleakly observes. The forty-year-old author himself is quoted as saying, ‘looking at death is a full-time job’ – a job which he performs more conscientiously than most of us do in London Fields.  Martin Amis, behind and outside the novel, but everywhere inside it, has, we apprehend, come to terms with the irreversible fact, that as the singer-poet Jim Morrison put it, ‘Nobody gets out of here alive.’ Life sentence, death sentence – what’s the difference?
 
London Fields is dedicated by Martin to his father, Kingsley Amis. He, too, was much preoccupied with death as a subject. It is proclaimed most aggressively in the title of his 1966 novel, The Anti-Death League, In the 1980s, as London Fields was distantly taking form in Martin’s mind, his father produced, among other late-career masterpieces, The Old Devils  (1986), the study of terminal decay and imminent demise which won Amis Sr his long overdue Booker. It would have been nice, and wholly appropriate, for London Fields to have won Amis Jr the award three years later. But he had put too many noses out of joint. He may have been well past infantile, but he was still, in 1989, too terrible a middle-aged man for many tastes.
 
London Fields opens, disarmingly, with a set of pseudo-candid definitions of what is to come which, like the title, will set the reader running in entirely wrong directions:
 
 
This is a true story but I can’t believe it’s really happening. It’s a murder story, too. I can’t believe my luck.
 
And it’s a love story (I think), of all strange things, so late in the century, so late in the goddamned day.
 
 
 The reader is hereby primed for docufiction, crime fiction, romantic fiction and science fiction. It’s none and all of these. The speaker is Samson Young. He is creating a novel within the novel, but he will not, as we shall discover, be the final novelist. Indeed, at times, Samson seems to be incapable of keeping possession of any important part of the narrative, which is constantly slipping through his fingers as he writes it. Unlike his biblical counterpart, Samson is neither young nor strong, but like him, though less dramatically, he is losing his eyesight. We learn that he is in stage four of a terminal illness. What the illness is, we are not precisely told. But the fact that his dead father was a scientist working with plutonium is a broad hint. As a novelist Sam has another severe handicap. He can’t invent. He can only report on the characters who – like clockwork puppets – he winds up and lets go. Once created by his mind they go their own wayward way, however hard he tries to keep them in line and create some kind of ‘story’ out of what they’ve decided, often against his wishes, to do.
 
It’s rich territory for postmodernist jests. The heroine Nicola, for example, asks Sam at one point to ‘edit out’ another character who is really getting on her nerves. The novelist declines. He banishes the complainant from the immediate story. Later he has sex with her. ‘It doesn’t matter what anyone writes any more,’ he ruefully concludes. ‘Man, am I a reliable narrator’, he exclaims elsewhere. He isn’t. At times he can’t even claim to be an unreliable narrator. He’s just around at the scene of the action which he has somehow set going.
 
It is one of the many snares for the reader of London Fields that the novel has what looks at first sight like a geometrical structure – it’s shapely, architectural even, in its formal layout. The table of contents is set out in triplets and sextuplets, the chapters making up the ‘pleasingly symmetrical’ and circadian number of twenty-four. Euclidean is a word which comes to mind. The chapters themselves conform to the same symmetrical shape – each beginning with Sam’s voice-over lead-in. But the narrative, which runs like mercury through these structures, is chaotic, fluid, at any point wholly unpredictable.
 
Amis was deeply interested in theoretical physics at this stage of his life.3 Quantum mechanics and the mysterious unfixities of sub-atomic particles seem to have been something he was pondering in London Fields. Sam, at one point, muses on ‘Heisenberg’s principle that an observed system inevitably interacts with its observer’. Indeterminacy makes for a novel which is infinitely rewarding, but not for the faint-hearted reader. My head, I confess, aches when I try to take on board the Heisenberg uncertainty principle that sub-atomic reality changes, simply because you are looking at it. Or that a particle can be in two places simultaneously. The novel requires a kind of continuous double-think. Sam, too, is in two places at once, both outside and inside his novel. A novel which changes, simply because we are reading it.
 
In an important sense Amis’s novel seems to be in two different places, or time zones, at once. Although it’s stated (always parenthetically) that the action is happening in the late 1990s, the ‘feel’ of the novel is much more the 1970s and in places the mid-1980 s. Low-life characters, for example, are wearing ‘flares’ and clacking around in ‘Cuban heels’ (finery as antique as woad in 1999), and slaver over their porn on VCRs. There are no computers, no mobile phones. The world would have ground to a halt in 1999 without its digital ‘chips’ (many Y2 K nightmares were concocted on just that theme). They are non-existent in this chipless narrative. Engelbert Humperdinck and Barry Manilow (sixty-three and fifty-six years old respectively in 1999) are warbling anachronistically in the background. The Soviet Union still exists as one of the world’s two superpowers (the Berlin Wall actually fell two months after the publication of London Fields. The Evil Empire was wobbling, terminally, as Amis was writing.) No British prime minister or government is mentioned in the text. But incidental jokes such as the following point strongly towards Mrs Thatcher’s 1980 s:  ‘In a bold response to an earlier crisis, it was decided to double the number of council flats. They didn’t build any new council flats. They just halved all the old council flats.’ So when is the novel ‘set’? 1970 s, 1980 s, or late 1990 s? A category mistake. The narrative, like that elusive particle, is in many historical places at once. It depends on where you are when you look at it. --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché .

Revue de presse

"I love reading novels about the city but this is my favourite. It manages to incorporate the seedy and the middle class Notting Hill side of the capital, all in one glorious unputdownable novel" (Phil Daniels Daily Express)

"Martin Amis's most ambitious, intelligent and nourishing novel to date... Keith Talent is a brilliant comic creation...as a fictional minor crook, he is in the major league, lying and cheating on the scale of Greene's Pinkie Brown and Saul Bellow's Rinaldo Cantabile" (Jay McInerney Observer)

"An electrifying writer who likes to shock his fans and share his sharply contemporary concerns... Amis is a maddening master you need to read - the best of his generation" (Mail on Sunday)

"London Fields, its pastoral title savagely inappropriate to its inner-city setting, vibrates, like all Amis's work, with the force fields of sinister, destructive energies. At the core of its surreal fable are four figures locked in lethal alignment" (Peter Kemp Sunday Times)


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61 internautes sur 62 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
London Calling 21 mai 2003
Par A. Ross - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
This seems to be a novel people tend to either love or hate, and it's not hard to see why. First of all, it is awfully long-and for such a long book, not a lot happens, which is bound to upset some people. Essentially, you have the tale of a not-so-romantic triangle comprised of Nicola Six (messed up psychic sexpot), Guy Clinch (posh, married, naive, and weak-willed), and Keith Talent (underclass wide-boy, schemer, on-the-fiddle, racist, sexist, alcoholic, generally scummy pub denizen), told by a dying American writer in London. Nicola has foreseen her murder at the hand of one of these characters, and thus she directs her own demise by luring them into her tangled web of self-destruction. It's entirely predictable (yes, even the "twist" at the end), but one reads Amis for the journey, not the destination.
The tale is set at the end of the millennium, with some vague catastrophe threatening the world, so it's safe to believe that the trio's story has some larger meaning. The west London of this book is a pretty nasty immoral place, where carpe diem means grab what you want and screw everyone else. As the physical world of the book obliquely slides toward disaster, the moral landscape is already destroyed. The protagonists themselves are stereotypes, the two men representing the opposite ends of the social spectrum, and the most recognizable "type" of modern British male: upper-crust wimp, lower-class lout. Nicola Six exists solely to satirize, and thus subvert, their sexual fantasies with her psychosexual games. Amis appears to be painting a larger picture about British enrapturement with... well, it's not clear precisely what Nicola represents. Capitalism? America? Or just the dreams and fantasies that have led the country astray? And clearly there's some sort of point being made by having Guy's baby be a monster, and Keith's be an angel, right?
Overarching metaphors aside, Amis can write the hell out of sentence, and there's plenty of awfully good description and dialogue here-especially when it comes to wide-boy Keith. There are large swathes of the book devoted to darts, and Amis makes it come alive. Some of this is devastatingly funny amidst the overall dark and bleak tone. My own favorite line is about scratches on Guy's face that (and this is not verbatim, but give's the gist): "made him look like a determined, but inept rapist"). Ultimately the book is too long, and the broad main characters and interjecting author get rather tedious. Still, it's a major work of modern British literature and merits a look if you're into that stuff.
28 internautes sur 30 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Amis the murderee 29 octobre 2000
Par gareth johnson - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
London Fields does require effort. It also rewards it like no other book I am aware of in contemporary fiction. I too aborted reading the book within 100 pages but given the extraordinary effects of Money, Dead Babies and Other People, I felt I ought to give Mart another go. I gave it another go.
There is a depth and richness in this book that I see replicated practically nowhere else in modern writing. Amis himself calls it "The Long Novel". The book reeks talent in its characterisation and language. London Fields is a consummate piece of reality and fiction. It puts certain others of his work - Time's Arrow, The Information to shame and it places the entire works of the pretenders (hey! Will Self! Hi!) just.... subterranean.
Buy this book. Give it the effort it needs to get beyond 100 - 150 pages. Reviews based on non-completion are obviously idiotic. When one gets through to reach this book's extraordinary conclusion, I for one would say it's a full dime shake up the spine; the knowledge that one has read a rare piece of imaginative fiction.
London Fields does character, setting and language in a manner unmatched by Martin Amis' contemporaries or indeed by himself since. Off the top of the wave, it will give you a ride like no other. Buy.
16 internautes sur 16 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
The Speed of Light 30 mai 2002
Par D. Wood - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
Okay, so Martin Amis has this thing about language, and it's undeniably impressive whether you can stand it or not. I personally enjoy reading the work of someone who has such command of the language, especially when it reads so well -- page-turning like Stephen King, but with substance like Henry James. (excuse me for that comparison, I'm sure it's bound to get a lot of sneers) Maybe I just like it because it makes me feel smart. (more sneers)
I like Amis in general, but this is by FAR my favorite. Granted: It's wordy. It stretches believability at times. There are places where author ego creeps through. And the subject matter is reeeeally depressing. BUT... I've read it twice, and both times I have come away in the end feeling inspired, sated, and joyously uplifted. It's sick, hilarious (oh my god), peopled with incredibly vivid characters, and peppered with typical quoteworthy Martin Amisisms.
Not only is it a satisfying read because of the mastery with which the story is told, but because of the story itself. Strange, I don't see anyone mentioning what I see as, finally, the most crucial thematic element of the book. It's supposedly about "the death of love," and this point is driven home ruthlessly from the beginning. And yet, even when the foretold ending comes about, Amis manages to put a gorgeous, beautiful little twist on what has been a pretty cynical, harrowing story. In the midst of all this nasty darkness there is, finally, at least one brilliant beam of pure sunlight. That, to me, is what London Fields is really about. "Love happens at the speed of light."
It takes courage and a little patience, but I recommend London Fields with as many stars as you've got.
14 internautes sur 15 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Amis delivers a lovely stroll through the urban apocalypse. 24 novembre 1999
Par Robert Stribley - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
Please ignore the comments by "A Reader" which occurred on August 15th of 1999, I believe. This person has some sort of puerile vendetta going on against Mr. Amis. "A Reader" may not have even read these books: the same critique is posted to every one of Amis's books on Amazon, without an actual comment on any particular book.
London Fields is a wonderful read. I read it several years ago and elements of the book still rumble around in the back of my admittedly impressionable mind--especially Keith Talent, vulgar sportsman that he is. Words and phrases from LF even worked their way into my vocabulary, and as a college student with a passable IQ and access to a dictionary I had no problem eventually digesting any of the multisyllabic constructs Amis threw my way.
Reading a book with a dictionary on hand really isn't a bad thing, innit?
11 internautes sur 12 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Too clever by half? Martin Amis? What a woolly thought! 11 octobre 2000
Par SEAN T ONEIL - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
well if it's pretty prose you want you'll find it here, not exactly James Joyce or Cormac McCarthy but surely there is beauty in Mr Amis's choices of words and phrases. the plot is rip-roaring, the troika of Guy Clinch, Nicola Six and Keith Talent are well-drawn, and I've never been more amused (and frightened) by a character than I was by Keith Talent. the ending surprised me, the hard-core darts information was fun and enlightening, and of course the perspective was uniquely, inimitably Martin Amis -- in other words witty, clever, brash, sneaky, scary, tough, tender, cold, hateful, vengeful, admiring, loathing, and self-evaluative.
Mr Amis's books are so different from one another that it's not surprising that some folks will say this one isn't as good as Money, or Time's Arrow, or Dead Babies, or The Rachel Papers. it's just a lot different from those books. London Fields *IS* vastly better than The Information, though.
this was the first Martin Amis book I read, and while my favorite is Money, this one is a very close second.
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