First you need to go back to the quote that starts my review
of The Moonstone. Betteredge argues that it is a real problem for the rich that they are idle. Well, Martin Amis takes that premise and doesn't just see the raise, he goes all in. But his setting isn't high society 19th century England. It is nouveau riche late 20th Century London, NY, and LA. He is merciless. Well, almost. You can build a little sympathy for the protagonist, but you may hate yourself for doing it. John Self is a crass, overweight ad-man turned movie director with a taste for booze by the gallon, cigarettes, coccaine, pornography, and violence (against men, women, whoever). He knows he has problems, but he's not doing much about them. Oh, and he loves money. He manages to leave a path of destruction in his wake that Gabriel Betteredge could not even imagine, possibly because the messes he makes cannot even be loosely attributed to an interest in art or natural history.
I have a hard time deciding whether to recommend this book. On one hand, it's pretty brilliant. On the other hand, you have to live through a guided tour of protagonist John Self's life and brain, and it is a very ugly ride. He spends an incredible percentage of his time falling-down drunk or blacked out. When he's awake, he's usually in a strip club or worse. This guy is beyond uneducated and uncultured. A woman he knows introduces him to books. He reads Animal Farm and doesn't get that it is allegory. Here is his response to reading a book about Hitler: As for Hitler, well, I'm consternated. I can't fucking believe this stuff. Look how far he spread his violence. And I thought
I was agressive. Boy, Germany must have had some dizzy spell or drunk on, in the Thirties and Forties there, to have given headroom to a sick little gimp like him. I'm consternated. I can't believe this stuff. And you're telling me it's
Well, at least he was consternated. And that's why I hung in there with him. That and his description of LA: You come out of the hotel, the Vraimont. Over boiling Watts the downtown skyline carries a smear of God's green snot. You walk left, you walk right, you are a bank rat on a busy river. This restaurant serves no drink, this one serves no meat, this one serves no heterosexuals. You can get your chimp shampooed, you can get your dick tattooed, twenty-four hours, but can you get lunch? And should you see a sign on the far side of the street flashing BEEF-BOOZE--NO STRINGS, then you can forget it. The only way to get across the street is to be born there. All the ped-Xing signs say DON'T WALK, all of them, all the time. That is the message, the content of LA: don't walk. Stay Inside. Don't Walk. Drive. Don't Walk. Run! I tried the cabs. No use. The cabbies are all Saturnians who aren't even sure if this is a right planet or a left planet. The first thing you have to do, every trip, is teach them how to drive.
With passages like that, you are tempted to keep reading in spite of the hellish world you are travelling through. You want to know if John will be redeemed. You also want to know what is up with the caller who threatens him anonymously and seems to know his every move. It took me two tries to get through this book. The second time I still wasn't always sure it was worth it, but it is on the 1001 books list, and so I felt inclined to try. This is a funny and scathing critique of a segment of society that certainly needs critiquing, but if you have scruples about reading ugly stuff, it may not be for you.