I didn’t finish LONDON FIELDS; I got one-hundred pages from the end and either got bored, went on vacation, or both. In a phrase: the book stopped pleasing me.
Why? The key problem for me was the wild, self-aware prose which filled up 500 pages of an otherwise interesting plot. I suppose when we read for pleasure, we reading for plot; and, in that way, Amis’ book is too much bark and not enough bite. Furthermore, it is too much about the writer writing and not enough about me reading–i.e. plot. It’s a self-aware, postmodern excess of self-expression, and all that gets in the way of what I want: a plot.
People can go either way with self-awareness. But does self-awarness, for its own sake, razzle-dazzle anyone these days? I’m not razzled anymore by the stuff. And I take that as a sign that the postmodern hiccup that happened to modernity–but which appears to be over now–is indeed ending. Like, in postmodernity, the more self-aware you were, the more you were able to show off your personality. In modernity, you have to deal with the past and you do it by being wildly, radically, deeply, sincerely, hat-tipingly yourself. You have to find your VOICE. For postmodernity, being self-aware and having a voice are the same thing. But, now, we’re getting back to modernity and we prefer some sincere, honest feelings: we read for pleasure. Taste is in our mouths again, and we’re OK with it being there. Your voice is how you talk. Not a big deal. In which case, now, the self-awareness of the postmodern novelist gets in the way of the reader’s pleasure.
We’re still all about personality, but not self-aware personality. Now it’s about something else. What? For me, it is still and will always be about pleasure and learning: a good writer teaches by delight.
What’s really nice, and why Amis is so smart, is he actually talks about this pleasure principle in a recent interview. I think he’s great for being an example of what’s happening today and actually knowing what he’s doing, too. Here’s the quotation:
“Fiction is much more to do with love than people admit or acknowledge. The novelist has to not only love his characters—which you do, without even thinking about it, just as you love your children. But also to love the reader, and that’s what I mean by the pleasure principle. The difference between a Nabokov, who in almost all his novels, nineteen novels, gives you his best chair and his best wine and his best conversation. Compare that to Joyce, who, when you arrive at his house, is nowhere to be found, and then you stumble upon him, making some disgusting drink of peat and dandelion in the kitchen. He doesn’t really care about you. Henry James ended up that way. They fall out of love with the reader. And the writing becomes a little distant.”
Then he says a little more about pleasing readers:
“You can’t be up the reader’s ass, as many a writer I think is—cute as hell, ingratiating as hell. But that’s not loving the reader in the right way. That’s toadying to the reader. When I talk about the pleasure principle, I don’t say there is only one kind of pleasure, there are many kinds of pleasure. Some pleasure is difficult. It should be for the reader as well as the writer. But it has to be pleasure.”
I’d like to read Amis’ most recent book now. I wonder how London Fields compares? And would I enjoy the more recent one?