Night Train by Martin Amis
Amis is an author who appears to have a 'marmite' following. The mere mention of his name will trigger a discussion straight away - without even getting anywhere near talking about his actual books!
I'm embarrassed to say this is the first time I have actually read a novel by Amis. We have a few copies of his books on our shelves but I have always been a little wary of them, feeling my need to read them was more from a sense of 'literary duty' rather than for pleasure! However, I was set the "Night Train" as homework on a creative writing course and therefore I rose to the challenge - and at only 149 pages, it did not feel like an onerous task!
The opening is very compelling. The voice is direct and blunt.
"I am a police and my name is Detective Mike Hoolihan. And I am a woman also. What I am setting out here is an account of the worst case I have ever handled."
The story continues with Mike clearly laying out all the information we need for the opening of a detective novel. She tells us about herself, about the crime and the background information we need. Very quickly a clear tone of voice and style of prose is established. Mike's voice is not unpleasant, but it takes some warming to and although perhaps convincing as an american police officer, I was not entirely sold on its authenticity as a female.
Hoolihan knows the victim Jennifer Rockwell which perhaps complicates the case a little. The first part of the novel is set out in diary form and at times Hoolihan speaks directly to Jennifer as she summarises key findings of the crime scene which creates tension and makes the writing feel very vivid and full of impact.
"Jennifer, you killed yourself. It's down."
The novel is divided into three parts. Part 2 is called "Felo de se" which translates as "suicide of the felon" and here more details are unveiled about Jennifer. I liked the sub heading "The Psychological Autopsy" and Amis' exploration of suicide and the "night train" -
"Suicide is the night train, speeding your way to darkness."
There's some straight talking from Mike as she shares her knowledge and experience of suicide with a list of Don'ts. There's a lot of them and there is an edge of black humour there too. The list ends with the ominous statement:
"Don't be Jennifer Rockwell. The question is: But why not?"
I learnt a new word during Mike's interview with the professor - "consternated". I will be aiming to use it in my conversation at some point this week!
I did feel that Amis left me behind a little bit towards the end of the novel. The reader does have to pay attention, particularly with the different forms of punctuation - or lack of - employed as Amis switches between dialogue, contemplation, lists and facts. The ending left me with more questions than I had started with and I was torn between enjoying the ambiguity of it and feeling a little confused.
It was an interesting read and I am glad that I persevered with it but I think I need to read it again, and then probably again to fully absorb it. I liked aspects of the prose but I did find it a bit demanding to read this style over a sustained number of pages.
There's no doubt that Amis deserves the literary accolade he gets and there's no doubt that he is a gifted writer. There is plenty to admire in this short book and plenty to acknowledge in terms of literary fiction. I'm not sure I will pick up another of Amis's titles for a while although I would be interested to see something written from a male point of view to see how he portrays his male characters.
Night Train was published by Vintage in 1997.
Here's a great article from the Guardian (2014) which explores the author a little more and explains why Amis provokes such strong reactions from people:
theguardian - why we love to hate Martin Amis
Here's a link to the British Council website which has a comprehensive list of Amis' titles and some biographical info:
literature.britishcouncil - Martin Amis bio
For more recommendations and reviews you can follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)