Julie Kavanagh's feature about her time with a young Martin Amis inspired me to finally pick up "The Rachel Papers". It is hilarious--ribald and knowing, full of unexpected phrases ("pimply lyricism", "regional yobs with faces like gravy dinners", a man with "unusually big brown ears, like tea-dunked ginger-biscuits", a young woman who "made much of her eyes, her nose made much of itself"), and plenty of jokes at the hero's expense. It is a great book, his first, written when he was 24.
As Amis developed as a writer, he began to sacrifice his characters to his cleverness. His later books reveal an infatuation with his own clear-eyed, wry disdain of everyone's flaws. The poor folks with the misfortune of inhabiting his novels tend to be nasty bitches and putty-faced blokes, rarely worthy of empathy. After wrestling with the wittily vile "London Fields" some years ago, I put it down half-way through and never went back. If he doesn't care for his characters, why should I?
So "The Rachel Papers" has been an education. Perhaps there are other pockets in his oeuvre that glitter not only with self-regard but also heart? Please advise.
In the meantime, there's this sentence, which bristles with youth:
"It was a month of plonk and coffee-bars, pinball arcades and party hunts, of looking for girls and wet daydreams, white ghoulish hippies, of such mind-expanding drug experiences as pork-chop vomiting and consommé diarrhoea."
There's also this one: "London is where people go in order to come back from it sadder and wiser."