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Night Train ()

Granta Best British Novelists (1983)

    Suicide is the night train, speeding your way to darkness. You won't get there so quick, not by
    natural means. You buy your ticket and you climb on board. That ticket costs everything you have.
        -Night Train

It is, perhaps, a little unfair to judge an author by a book which is generally recognized to be a departure from his general oeuvre.  However, from what I've read about him, Martin Amis is supposed to be a big fan of American Literature, of crime and noir fiction, and of Elmore Leonard in particular.  So it seems reasonable to at least assess this one novel according to the standards of the genre it is paying homage to, and it simply does not measure up.

Mike Hoolihan, the narrator, is a police detective in an unnamed second tier American city.  In what is apparently supposed to be a novel twist, mike is a she, a rather large she--5' 10", 180 pounds--but a she nonetheless.  She is called upon to investigate the apparent suicide of Jennifer Rockwell, a beautiful young astrophysicist, who, as the saying goes, "had it all."  The case is of particular importance because the victim was the daughter of Colonel Tom Rockwell, Mike's superior on the police force and something of a mentor to her.  It is an especially vexing case because Jennifer seems to have shot herself three times.

Now, I suppose there are no hard and fast rules to these things, but you'd think that if an author was trying to pay his respects to the classic hard boiled mystery the first thing he''d want to do is capture the voice, that tough talking, pared down, patter that distinguishes folks like Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, and their legions of imitators.  Amis gets off to a shaky start from page one when he has Mike introduce herself as follows : "I am a police."  Heck, I don't know if there's any variant of English in which that construction is grammatically correct, but I do know that no cop in America would introduce himself (herself) that way.  And it's downhill from there as Mike spends the rest of the book obsessing over the meaning of suicide and questions of physics and other blather which appears to be intended to add intellectual heft to the book.   But, you can't help feeling that he's chickened out in doing so.  It's sort of offensive that he feels compelled to slather on this pseudo-highbrow bunk.  If Amis doesn't perceive the deeper meanings and concerns that lie within the form he's imitating, perhaps he's not worthy to make the attempt.

There's also a rather profoundly shallow subtext to his speculation on suicide.  The fundamental mystery here is why a beautiful, intelligent, successful young woman would kill herself.  Well, I'm middle-aged, fat, hairy and unsuccessful, would that make my suicide somehow more explicable ?  Are beautiful people happier than the rest of us ?  Do they have more reason to live ?

In the end, I really just didn't care why Jennifer hopped the Night Train and was unmoved by the prospect that Mike might climb aboard too.  I just wanted the book to reach its final destination so I could get off.


Grade: (D)


Martin Amis Links:

    -ESSAY: The palace of the end: The first war of the Age of Proliferation will not be an oil-grab so much as an expression of pure power (Martin Amis, March 4, 2003, The Guardian)

Book-related and General Links:
    -Featured Author: Martin Amis (NY Times)
    -Martin Amis Web
    -EXCERPT : First Chapter of Night Train
    -EXCERPT : First Chapter of Heavy Water
    -ESSAY :  London Literary Life : Let Me In, Let Me In! (Martin Amis, April 5, 1981, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of Underworld by Don DeLillo (Martin Amis, NY Times Book Review)
    -INTERVIEW : with Martin Amis (Laura Miller, Salon)
    -INTERVIEW : with Martin Amis (Alan Rusbridger, May 8, 2000, The Guardian)
    -INTERVIEW : 'You lying hippies' : Martin Amis tells Andrew Pulver about novels, movie-making and the 1970s  (January 23, 2001, The Guardian)
    -INTERVIEW : Martin Amis (Linda Richards, January Magazine)
    -INTERVIEW : NO CLOUT IN THE HOME : An Interview With Martin Amis (Monica Drake, The Stranger)
    -INTERVIEW : Fathers and sons : Martin Amis discusses art, death and family relationships with his mentor and kindred spirit, Saul Bellow (Electronic Telegraph)
    -INTERVIEW : Why Amis can't escape : Martin Amis tells 'Prison Writing' magazine about the words he stole from Dylan and of his thwarted plans to flee Britain... (Electronic Telegraph)
    -INTERVIEW : No More Illusions : Martin Amis is Getting Old and Wants to Talk About It (Alexander Laurence and Kathleen McGee , The Write Stuff)
    -INTERVIEW : An Interview with Martin Amis (Will Self, Mississippi Review)
    -INTERVIEW : Punk no more : Can the angry young writer who shocked readers with Money and Dead Babies really be 50 already? The son of Kingsley Amis talks  to The Globe about life, love and the allure of America. (DOUG SAUNDERS, May 6, 2000, The Globe and Mail)
    -INTERVIEW : What an Experience  with Martin Amis Pt. 3 (Danielle Egan, Terminal City)
    -INTERVIEW : with Martin Amis (Commonweath Club)
    -CHAT TRANSRIPT: (HotWired, 16 May 1995)
    -PROFILE : Martin Amis: Down London's Mean Streets : There is more to Martin Amis, Mira Stout finds in this profile, than the bad-boy reputation he has developed in the London press. She also interviews Amis's father, Kingsley. One of England's original ''angry young men,'' and now a Thatcherite, Kingsley thinks that in many ways Martin is a similar kind of writer. (Mira Stout, February 4, 1990, NY Times)
    -PROFILE : Success. Money. Happy? : New family, new novel, and a victory at tennis. No wonder Martin Amis is smiling (Tim Adams, October 12, 1997, The Observer )
    -PROFILE : Daddy dearest : The father's letters reveal a curmudgeonly love for this erudite son. So do the son's new memoirs show a mellowing of the tough man of letters? (Vanessa Thorpe, April 16, 2000, The Observer)
    -PROFILE : Martin Amis braves America (Adam Woog, January 29, 1998, The Seattle Times)
    -PROFILE : Famous Amis, up close and personal  (Ellen Emry Heltzel, The Oregonian, February 15, 1999)
    -ESSAY : The Gulag Argumento: Martin Amis swings at Stalin and hits his own best friend instead. (Anne Applebaum, August 13, 2002, Slate)
    -Martin Amis - Author Page  (Guardian Unlimited)
    -THE INFOGRAPHY :   Amis, Martin (1949- )
    -Martin Amis (August 25, 1949 - ) (Bradley C. Shoop)
    -ARTICLE : New Novelist Is Called a Plagiarist : Martin Amis accuses Jacob Epstein of plagiarism in Epstein's first novel "Wild Oats." Amis cites fifty examples of nearly identical wording in "Wild Oats" and Amis's 1972 novel "The Rachel Papers." (SUSAN HELLER ANDERSON, The New York Times,  October 21, 1980)
    -ARTICLE : Writer Apologizes for Plagiarism : Jacob Epstein apologizes for the plagiarism. He explains that he had kept notebooks of passages he admired from "The Rachel Papers" and other books. After reworking the material, he lost his original notebooks and was unable to reconstruct what he had borrowed and what he had invented. (SUSAN HELLER ANDERSON, The New York Times, October 28, 1980)
    -ARTICLE : Girl finds father is Martin Amis (Elizabeth Grice, June 21 1996, Electronic Telegraph)
    -ARTICLE : Martin Amis's Big Deal Leaves Literati Fuming : A deal paying Martin Amis over $700,000 for his novel ''The Information'' left a lot of hard feelings in London's literary circles, where commercial success is viewed warily by serious novelists.  (Sarah Lyall, January 31, 1995, NY Times)
    -ESSAY : Is Martin Amis worth it? : As the 'Mick Jagger of literature' goes back to his old publisher for a cool £1 million, George Thwaites looks at how his latest novel has been selling (Electronic Telegraph)
    -ESSAY : The Sisyphean treadmill of anguish : Obsession with death or prescient vision? Martin Cropper on parallels, constants and appalling coincidences in Martin Amis's work (Electronic Telegraph, 31 August 1996 )
    -ESSAY : MARTIN AMIS: Between the Influences of Bellow and Nabokov (Victoria N. Alexander, The Antioch Review Fall 1994)
    -ESSAY : Blame it on Amis, Barnes and McEwan : British novels no longer bring us "news" of our times. (Jason Cowley, New Statesman)
    -ESSAY : Losing a grip on reality (Julie Burchill, August 4, 2001, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY : Notebook : The novel is dead again (Ian Jack,  May 30, 2001, Granta)
    -ESSAY : "Narrative Reversals and the Thermodynamics of History in Martin Amis's Time's Arrow"  (Richard Menke)
    -ESSAY : History and Memory in Slaughterhouse Five and Time's Arrow (V. Archer)
    -ESSAY : Time in the Body (Melissa Miles, : Vitanza, E5352, Deleuze & Guattari and Rhetorical Theory)
    -ESSAY : And so, to begin at the end ... (JANE SULLIVAN, 21 May 2001, The Age)
    -ESSAY : From the Ridiculous to the Sublime: The Early Reception of Night Train (James Diedrick)
    -ESSAY : Will They Survive ? : Literary Reputations : The Amises (DJ Taylor, New Statesman)
    -SLATE BOOK CLUB : This week, a discussion of Experience:  A Memoir, by Martin Amis (Andrew O'Hagan & Inigo Thomas, Slate)
    -ARCHIVES : Directory | Martin Amis
    -ARCHIVES : "Martin Amis" (Slate)
    -REVIEW : of Time's Arrow (MICHIKO KAKUTANI, NY Times)
    -ANNOTATED REVIEW : Amis, Martin Time's Arrow (Jan Marta, Medical Humanities)
    -REVIEW : of TIME'S ARROW by Martin Amis (Evelyn C. Leeper)
    -REVIEW : of Night Train (PATRICK MCGRATH, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Night Train (complete review)
    -REVIEW : of Night Train (Frank Kermode, Atlantic Monthly)
    -REVIEW : of Night Train (Gail Caldwell, Boston Globe)
    -REVIEW : of Night Train (Allen Barra, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of Night Train (John Updike, Times of London)
    -REVIEW : of Night Train (Luc Sante, Slate)
    -REVIEW : of Night Train (Walter Kirn, New York)
    -REVIEW : of Night Train (Art Taylor, Spectator Online)
    -REVIEW : of Night Train (Andrew Taylor, Tangled Web)
    -REVIEW : of Night Train (Jonathan Foreman, National Review)
    -REVIEW : of Night Train (James William Brown, Book Page)
    -REVIEW : of Night Train (Allen Barra, City Pages)
    -REVIEW : of Night Train (Adam Woog, Seattle Times)
    -REVIEW : of Night Train by Martin Amis (Natasha Walter, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW : of Night Train (YVONNE CRITTENDEN --Toronto Sun)
    -REVIEW : of Night Train (HOLLIE SHAW -- CP)
    -REVIEW : of Night Train (GARNET FRASER -- Edmonton Sun)
    -REVIEW : of Night Train (CHRIS NELSON -- Calgary Sun)
    -REVIEW : of Night Train (Rahul Gupta, Pulse)
    -REVIEW : of The Rachel Papers (Grace Gleuck, May 26, 1974, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of Einstein's Monsters (Carolyn See, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of London Fields by Martin Amis (Christina Koning, September 21, 1989, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW : of London Fields (Michelle Rainer, The Peak, Simon Fraser University's Student Newspaper)
    -REVIEW : of The Information  by Martin Amis (E. Scott Slater, Boston Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Heavy Water (complete review)
    -REVIEW : of Heavy Water and Other Stories by Martin Amis (Laura Miller, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of Heavy Water (Nathaniel Rich, Yale Review of Books)
    -REVIEW : of Heavy Water & Other Stories by Martin Amis (Brooke Allen, New Criterion)
    -REVIEW : of Experience by Martin Amis (James Wood, May 20, 2000, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW : of Experience ( Andrew Roe, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of Experience : Working-class monster : Relatives say Martin Amis' new memoir exploits his murdered cousin, and they're right -- but not in the way they think. (Graham Joyce, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of Experience: A Memoir  by Martin Amis (Katherine Catmull, Austin Chronicle)
    -REVIEW : of Experience (Jeanie MacFarlane, The Hamilton Spectator)
    -REVIEW : of Experience (ELIZABETH GRICE, The Age)
    -REVIEW : of Experience by Martin Amis (Joy Press, Village Voice)
    -REVIEW : of The Letters of Kingsley Amis and  'Experience' by Martin Amis  (Christopher Hitchens, This is London)
    -REVIEW : of  The War against Cliché: Essays and Reviews 1971-2000 by Martin Amis (Frank Kermode, London Review of Books)
    -REVIEW : of The War Against Cliche : Essays and Reviews 1971-2000  by Martin  Amis (Geoff Dyer, Guardian Unlimited)
    -REVIEW : of The War Against Cliche : Essays and Reviews 1971-2000  by Martin  Amis (Jason Cowley, The Observer)
    -REVIEW : of THE WAR AGAINST CLICHÉ by Martin Amis (January Magazine)
    -REVIEW : of The Information by Martin Amis (Edwin Frank, Boston Review)
    -BOOK LIST : Count on it :  The author of "The Girl in the Flammable Skirt" picks five great books that play with numbers. : Time's Arrow by Martin Amis (Aimee Bender, Salon)