Shelf Defense: Yellow Dog, House of Meetings

In late 2011 I decided, in the hopes of keeping my library down to a manageable size, to comb through the unread sections in alphabetical order. It was a naïve, Sisyphean project, and it will take forever—so I’d better get moving. Shelf Defense is my occasional notebook about what I dig up, from Alphabet Juice to Point Omega.

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MARTIN AMIS, YELLOW DOG (2003)

WHY DO I OWN THIS?: Because he’s my one of my favourites, and it was remaindered. But mostly because of that whole "It’s like your favourite uncle being caught in a playground, masturbating" review.

THOUGHTS: Contrarianism is fun. So here goes: Amis’s most-hated novel is actually not that bad. In fact, the first part has some real bite and kick to it; the reproduced tabloid articles penned by one Clint Smoker are perfectly disgusting and disgustingly perfect. And not since Money has Amis found a title with so much elasticity. It turns out there are many shades of yellow—dog, house, tongue, and the ever-implied journalism. But the rest… yeah. Way too complicated and opaque, starting with the alternate-universe English monarchy, continuing with the corpse who’s trying to orchestrate a plane crash, and ending with characters named He and And. (This is before incest-paedophilia is posited as a viable plot point.) It gets bad.

On the Amis scale of smile to snarl, this is as close to the latter as you can get. And, as always, there’s a comparison to Amis Sr. to be made. Russian Hide-and-Seek opens with a man worrying about having scared a sheep; Yellow Dog features a man blissfully unconcerned with running over a sheep. That’s really all you need to know.

KEEP OR SELL: Keep (for now).

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MARTIN AMIS, HOUSE OF MEETINGS (2006)

WHY DO I OWN THIS?: Because my mom prowls remainder tables, too.

THOUGHTS: I really hope this doesn’t mark the beginning of a new phase for Amis (continued in 2010’s The Pregnant Widow)—namely, the phase of unnecessary codas. Most everything that happens post-gulag I could take or leave; just the phrase second wife makes me feel sleepy. Finish with the first wife, is my feeling, and then we’ll talk. But most of the book is powerful stuff. I actually quite like him when he’s in heavy-research mode, and it makes sense to ventriloquize all those facts and statistics through a survivor who’s clinically unable to let things go. The love triangle is overshadowed by its being described as “brutally scalene,” and I laughed at the narrator’s description of his manuscript as a love story. “All right, Russian love. But still love.” Tough landscapes require tough language, I suppose. And tough love? That just comes with the territory.

KEEP OR SELL: Keep.

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