Orion Reads
a diary of books etc.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

House of Meetings

I've been looking forward with gravity to Martin Amis's newest novel, House of Meetings. I think i need to preface saying anything about it by explaining what i was expecting. I'm not sure where i picked up the impression, but i was expecting House of Meetings to be a fictionalization of Amis's non-fiction book about Stalinist USSR, Koba The Dread. Now House of Meetings is certainly set in the horrific world described in Koba, it has the Gulag, denouncings, etc. But fundamentally it's not historical fiction; it's literary fiction with a particular historical stage, if that makes sense. That is, it's a regular story of brotherly rivalry for one woman. It's a very well written story of brotherly rivalry for one woman, but it's certainly not a novelization of Koba. So, i was pretty disappointed, but only because it didn't match my very specific preconceptions.

The crime of not being the book i wanted aside, House of Meetings is an excellently written tale of two brothers and one bombshell. The narrator ends up in the Gulag soon after WWII, and a year or two later, his younger and much uglier brother (who has meanwhile married the bombshell) lands in the same prison camp. As usual, Amis's lead characters are .. baroque ? Magnificent ? Luridly Three Dimensional ? Ever the master of the anti-hero, the narrator is basically an asshole, having "raped my way across europe" as part of the soviet army, and of course, coveting his brother's wife.

So some examples of Amis's wonderful prose.

Describing Zoya, the bombshell, and whom the brothers both refer to as "The Americas" (as in north and south) because of how she's shaped:
So, to encapsulate: Zoya, unlike "all the others," I saw as indivisible. Being indivisible was her prime constituent. Each action involved the whole of her. When she walked, everything swayed. When she laughed, everything shook. When she sneezed - you felt that absolutely anything might happen. And then she talked, when she argued and opposed, across a tabletop, she sedentary belly dance of rebuttal.
.. So obviously the prose is pretty good.

I think that's all i have to say on this one.