I am not a big fan of London. But I am a fan of Robert Louis Stephenson and Martin Amis!
Unfortunately I was a bit disappointed with both of these books… But strangely less disappointed with London on this visit? Go figure. Anyway I started with The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde which I think would actually be really great if you didn’t know what it was about. I won’t spoiler it just in case, but seriously, who doesn’t know what’s up with Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. I liked the story telling device of Mr Utterson investigating the strange happenings at Dr Jekyll’s house and the use of letters and different voices to reveal the plot. But then there’s the big reveal! Which turns out to be not much of a reveal. It gave London a gothic feel, full of darkness and shadowy creatures only lightened by puddles of light at the foot of various lamp posts. But it’s not just knowing the end that’s the problem, it’s that knowing what happens ruins the entire atmosphere of mystery and strangeness.
The Information is classic Martin Amis. It follows Richard Tull, a failed writer of difficult fiction and his friend Gwynn Barry who has become an overnight success with (what Tull thinks is) inane and merit-less fiction. In true Martin Amis style the characters are all largely horrible people hanging out with a criminal element in a grotesque caricature of modern London. Everyone is out to get everyone else and no-one but the worst people get what they want. Amis is an amazing writer, conjuring up an entirely threatening world representing the worst of our own. But I found that The Information dragged a bit. Things took too long to happen and when everyone in the book is pretty repulsive anyway it makes it hard to get through the slow parts. And unlike Money and London Fields it lacked the killer twist that brings everything together and shows off just how smart Amis is.
London, on the other hand, was far better than I had hopes. I had a super-literary time: our apartment was in Bloomsbury, former home to Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf and J M Barrie, I went to the British Library every couple of days to look at famous manuscripts, I spent a ridiculous amount of time in bookshops and went to author talks. Most of my heroes are writers and after reading their work, reading literary criticism on their work, learning about their lives and seeing who they’ve influenced they turn into these giant characters in and of themselves so it was amazing to see their handwriting and remember that these geniuses were real people too. And I got to see the handwritten first draft of Harry Potter.
It all made me very excited about going to the Edinburgh Book Festival where I’ll get to meet some of my favourite authors for reals! Now I just have to think of some intelligent things to say to them…..