London Fields (novel)  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
London Fields is a black comic novel by British writer Martin Amis, published in 1989.

Regarded by Amis's readership as possibly his strongest novel, the tone gradually shifts from high comedy, interspersed with deep personal introspections, to a dark sense of foreboding and, eventually, panic as the deadline or "horrorday" — the climactic scene alluded to on the very first page — approaches.

Plot summary

London Fields is set in a rapidly declining London in 1999, the time of the rapidly approaching Millennium and the rapidly dying twentieth century. The world is in crisis and faces a nuclear holocaust. Samson Young (Sam), the narrator of the novel, is an American, a failed non-fiction writer, slowly dying of terminal cancer and suffering from a terminal case of writer's block. Recently arrived in London, he meets Keith Talent, a cheat (i.e. a small-time criminal) and aspiring professional darts player, at Heathrow Airport - Keith is posing as a minicab driver and gives Sam an extortionately priced ride into town. Sam is invited by Keith to the Black Cross, a pub on the Portobello Road, which is where he meets the anti-heroine, Nicola Six, and Guy Clinch, a rich upper-class banker who is bored with life, with his terrifyingly snobbish American wife, Hope and his terrifyingly out-of-control toddler, Marmaduke. Later, Sam sees Nicola dramatically dumping what turn out to be her diaries in a litter bin outside the flat where Sam is staying (it belongs to Mark Asprey, a wildly successful English writer). The diaries tell Sam that Six is plotting her own murder for the early hours of November 6th, her 35th birthday. Sam, normally unable to write fiction, realises he can simply document the progress towards the murder to create a plausible, saleable, story. He enters into a strange relationship with Six where he regularly interviews her and is updated on the "plot".

The novel proceeds on the basis that Keith Talent, the known criminal, will be the murderer, with Guy Clinch as the fall guy necessary to provoke him into killing (and, incidentally, unwittingly provide funds to help Talent avoid being beaten up by loan sharks and further his darts career to ensure he appears in the Sparrow Masters darts final the day before the planned murder). However, there is a genuinely shocking twist at the finale, which is not even the expected twist - Amis cleverly hints at a false ending, in one of Young's terrifying dreams, simply to confuse the reader.

The story is set against a backdrop of environmental, social and moral degradation and the looming threat of world instability and nuclear war (referred to as "The Crisis"). The characters have few, if any, redeeming features.

Keith regularly cheats on and abuses his wife . He regularly sleeps with an underage girl in return for cash payments to her mother . He drinks, gambles, and takes part in burglaries and semi-violent crime (although he is unable to follow through with actual violent crime). A pornography addict, Keith is obsessed with television to the extent that he is unable to distinguish reality from what is shown on the screen. He has raped several women in the past (including his wife). Nicola is a self-styled "murderee", who manipulates the entire cast of characters to bring about her own murder so that she will not have to face ageing, a natural process that she hates, fearing the loss of her attractiveness and the onset of decay and old age. She describes herself as a failed suicide, who must find her murderer if she is to successfully end her life. She spins a different story to each of the three male characters (Sam, Keith and Guy) in her web. To Guy, she pretends she is a frigid, sexually timid virgin: she tells him that her childhood in a dreadful orphanage and her friendship with a tragic girl called Enola Gay who is raped by a "pitiless Iraqi" and who produces a child called Little Boy, has left her unable to form a sexual relationship with any man, but that Guy has awakened the possibility in her. Feigning love for Guy, she teases him sexually at every opportunity, pretending she is too afraid and too unready to "go the whole way" with him, until his unsatisfiable and excrutiating lust induces him to leave his wife and child and to give her a very large sum of money which he believes will help her bring the fictional Enola Gay and Little Boy to London. To Keith, Nicola styles herself as a rich, knowing woman of the world, a former one-night-stand of the Shah of Iran, who recognises him for what he truly is - a darts prodigy and future darts celebrity. She gives Keith the money that Guy has given her, which he spends on ridiculous clothes and accessories. Keith, a pornography aficionado (and addict) is kept keen by regular "home videos" created by Nicola, starring herself. To Sam, Nicola pretends to tell the whole truth, but in fact manipulates him as well, in a way that is apparent to the reader only when Sam himself realises - at the end of the story.

One of the central themes of the novel is the link between reading and information-gathering, and the (un)reliability of written information, of narrators and narrative. All three characters provide Sam with written material: Nicola's diaries, Guy's short stories and Keith's own darting diary together with his cheat's brochure of goods and services. Mass media has corrupted the ability to read and led to disorientation, heavy reliance is placed on gossip and tabloids, neither of which can pass any test of accuracy. When Kath, Keith's wife, wants to read "the proper papers", she has to go to the library: her husband's tabloids don't make any mention of world affairs, it is impossible to tell what is happening from them. Keith's obsession with television, and with the fast-forwarded, freeze-frame version of television that he screens nightly, and with his tabloid newspaper "The Daily Lark", is so great that he becomes confused with reality. When he stars in the darts "docu-drama" - itself implying a dangerous mixture, or confusion, of reality and TV-fiction, he is unable to cope with the concept and it is Nicola who must "translate him" for TV. Nicola, then, is the medium through which he hopes to enter the world of TV and escape from his real life, which he "hates like a deformity".

In the shadows of the novel is the mysterious Mark Asprey, whose pen-name, or one of them, is also Marius Appleby, initials MA. As Mark Asprey, he writes what appear to be highly popular fiction, translated into innumerable languages. As Marius Appleby, he writes what appears to be a true-life memoir of his seduction of a large-bosomed lady on an exotic foreign exploration. But (as we learn at every turn) the written word deceives us: Asprey prints his own translations to look impressive and Appleby's memoir is exaggerated to the point of being untrue. At the end of the novel, it appears that Asprey has appropriated Sam's narrative for his own. Asprey is not famous for writing: he is famous for being famous - for publicity. One of the protagonists in Appleby's "memoir" complains of the inaccuracies in the text in a magazine article - another gossip column, a piece of popular media, whose own accuracy we cannot trust.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "London Fields (novel)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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