London Fields. often regarded as the strongest of Martin Amis’s novels, is commonly considered as the middle part of his London trilogy, along with Money (1984) and The Information (1995). It’s been an enduring success, and there have been several attempts to adapt the novel for film. It is innovative, a state-of-the-art literary work, which reflects Amis’s clairvoyant vision of London.
The year 1989 came at the end of an awful decade for the environment. We witnessed rising ecological awareness along with a succession of environmental disasters. A pervasive fear of the atomic bomb remained palpable with the Cold War still in the background.
At the same time, 1989 became instantly charged with global symbolism. It was the year of the collapse of the Berlin Wall, which paved the way for a new, unexpected world order, so much so that there was talk of the ‘end of history’. The dissolution of the binary opposition (Washington/Moscow) in geopolitics was in some measure reproduced more widely, with a sense of merry catastrophe into the next decade – already seen as particularly crucial because of the numerical, temporal coincidences that beat the time of human existence.
This was the ideal setting for the creation of a novel such as London Fields. published in 1989 and set in 1999, and so embracing those numerical and temporal coincidences. The novel had an unusually lengthy gestation period. Martin Amis began working on it in 1983 and initially had in mind a long short story of perhaps a hundred pages. He saw the work in progress expanding, taking different shapes over six years that were formative for the author, in the personal as well as the professional sphere. So it really is the painful outcome of the 1980s, soaked with then dominant concerns but very much projected onto the future – and onto a symbolical date that lends itself to one of the dimensions of his novel, the apocalyptic.
The Plot in Outline
Samson Young, an unsuccessful American writer, swaps houses with Mark Asprey, a fashionable British writer who lives in Notting Hill. We are in 1999, and Samson Young sets foot in Europe after having been away for ten years. He’s looking for some inspiration for his last novel – he’s seriously ill after radiation exposure — so he manages to make friends with three people he meets by chance in a pub in Portobello Road. He also manages to develop the relations between them, who didn’t know each other well. He parasitizes the complex plot hatched by beautiful Nicola Six against rich Guy Clinch, from whom – by way of her erotic and intellectual appeal – she’s able to steal a huge quantity of money after inventing two characters in distress in Cambodia. To help with her plot the hooligan Keith Talent comes in handy, not least because he can be easily manipulated. All three characters seem to have motive for killing the dark lady, who has always known that she would die on the day of the 35th birthday — November 5th, 1999. Meanwhile, both the weather and the political situation in London are on the verge of catastrophe …
There were earlier examples of ‘visionary’ London fictions, of course. Among the more recent precedents, Mother London by Michael Moorcock and The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie were both published in 1988 (it was in 1989 that a fatwa was issued against Rushdie). Moorcock’s novel describes a fantastic London that is turned towards the past, absorbed in listeПing to the voices of its own ghosts. Nonetheless, with its jabs into four different periods of the twentieth century city – including a London destroyed by German bombs in World War Two – Mother London displays an almost cinematic view of the city, in a manner reminiscent of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Rushdie’s Satanic Verses foreshadows a post-metropolis, since London, centre of the former Empire, ‘Airstrip One, Mahagonny, Alphaville’, is the fulcrum of the magical world of the novel and of History.
The other 1980s visionary account of the city was Alan Moore’s revolutionary graphic novel V for Vendetta. This has recently enjoyed much attention and was мейд into a very popular film in 2005. Moore set his dystopian London in the 1990s, following a nuclear war in the infamous 1980s. It was published in instalments from 1982 through to … 1989.