Here, at last, is Martin Amis’ infamous $800,000 novel. It’s got everything — greed, envy, betrayal, scandal — and that’s before you even get to page 1. The tale behind this pricey tome’s publication is actually a juicier read than the book itself.
To briefly recap: Last year Amis stunned London literati by demanding a half-million-pound advance for this novel — an unheard-of sum by British standards. Then he shocked the Brits again by firing his longtime agent and replacing her with New York publishing barracuda Andrew Wylie. Add a messy divorce and a bizarre media razzing over his recent dental work, and you have the makings of a dynamite literary farce.
THE INFORMATION — a book about literary envy and midlife crisis — comes tantalizingly close to being just that. Its (anti)hero is Richard Tull, a miserably unsuccessful Serious Novelist who slogs away on unreadable manuscripts while his old schoolmate Gwyn Barry pecks out inane utopian fables and becomes an instant literary superstar. For 374 pages (that’s $2,139 a page) Tull plots revenge, concocting outrageous schemes to end Barry’s career, marriage, maybe even his life.
It sounds like a killer concept, especially in the hands of the diabolical genius who penned 1986’s Money, the ultimate Greed Decade satire. Unfortunately, in recent years, Amis has become more and more fascinated by his own Joycean mastery over the language, experimenting with voice shifts and time warps and other High Art hat tricks. For those who prefer more down-to-earth prose, this state-of-the-art verbal stunt flying can get really annoying.
To be fair, The Information does have some brilliant moments. Amis is never sharper than when describing America, and Barry’s U.S. book tour is some of his wittiest writing in years. Still, at $800,000, this book isn’t exactly a bargain. My suggestion: Don’t pay more than $24. B-