House of Meetings

House of Meetings

by Martin Amis

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House of Meetings 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
TheAmpersand on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Prior to picking up "House of Meetings," "Dead Babies" was the only Amis I'd read. I found that novel almost offensively terrible, a shallow, sophomoric exercise in provocation for its own sake. I'm glad I gave Amis another chance, though. While Amis hasn't lost his taste for the grotesque, "House of Meetings" is a fearless novel that isn't afraid to describe some of the twentieth century's worst moments or to tackle it's thorniest ethical problems. It is also, to Amis's credit, compulsively readable and unwilling to waste time or space on sentimentality. The voice of Amis's now-aged narrator rings out clear as a bell from the book's pages, a remarkable achievement in so brief a book that covers so much ground. "House of Meetings" tells the story of two brothers, both of whom are what the Soviet authorities used to call "politicals," attempting to survive incarceration in the Soviet gulags where millions of prisoners met their deaths. It's also an exploration of how different characters might behave when faced with an interminable, society-wide catastrophe. Even the novel's narrator, his brother, Lev, and his sister-in-law, Zoya do their best to survive emotionally and economically in post-war Russia, they are constantly reminded that their deaths - from starvation, the state, or the unforgiving Russian cliimate - might come at any time. Worst of all, they knew their fate may not be tied to any of their decisions, since the Soviet system often doled out punishment and reward in unpredictable and capricious ways. The novel asks whether one can remain human, concerned with love or art or morality, under such circumstances, and whether meaningful resistance is even possible when people must fight so hard to survive. It manages to turn the entertaining, and sometimes bitterly funny, story of three individuals into an effective elegy for the million now-nameless Russians that perished under Stalin. Amis has clearly done his research here. For millions of Soviet citizens, these weren't just academic questions, and it's discouraging to note that most of the degrading scenes in this novel were most probably drawn from the historical record. He also takes us on a very comprehensive tour of gulag life, describing in careful detail the and subtle hierarchies and bizarre economies that existed among the prisoners. After Stalin dies and the brothers are freed, Amis offers a description of the marginal economic and cultural undergrounds that provided a necessary counterpoint to a drab, unhappy society drowning in bureaucracy. He even takes time to ruminate on the nature of the Russian soul, and, even though he's an Englishman by birth, he manages to tie these familiar generalizations in with his developing narrative so that they seem both accurate and trenchantly sad. Mixed up somewhere in all of this mess, life happens to these characters. Our narrator and his two companions meet, fall in love, have sex, work and grow, even if they're sometimes forced to make terrible compromises in order to do keep themselves from perishing. "House of Meetings," is, in its own way, a testament to human survival under the harshest conditions, evidence that a good story can emerge from even the darkest chapters of history.
kishields on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The 4th or 5th of Amis's books that I've read, and it reminds me of many familiar patterns, themes and tones in his work. The prose is beautiful, though more concise in books like London Fields. The narrator is bitter and jealous, in conflict and competition with his brother. Their paths crisscross, one ascending as the other plummets. However, unlike other of his novels that I've read, this book is set in another place and time¿in the Russian work camps, which Amis has researched very thoroughly. The book brought this setting and period of Russian history alive for me better than any other work I have read, including A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. The grimness and hardship of Russians both inside and outside the camps is very well portrayed and while the characters are not cozy and lovable by any means, the book ends up being very affecting.
Gary10 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I feel like I should like Martin Amis more than I do! Well written but I did not find it that engaging. Maybe it is impossible to talk about Stalin's work camps and have it be pleasant. But in spite of the fact that you would think you could find sympathy for people being so mistreated, the main characters in this book do not evoke much sympathy. I always find it hard to relate to a book when you dont really like any of the characters.
RickK on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Found it a little hard to follow but enjoyed Amis' writing style. Perhaps the subject matter was something that I just didn't have enough insight into
nohablo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Beautiful, lush, hard-nosed prose of someone who clearly hammers together and prises apart sentences. Pitch-perfect diction, with the sort of OED, heat-seeking missile accuracy that speaks of dogged talent and workmanship. However, has the same sort of emotional distance and aloofness as his memoir, Experience. Connects cerebrally but doesn't really hit any switches in the heart or gut.But oh the prose.
whitewavedarling on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a dark and frighteningly tender book. Amis masterfully crafts his narrator's voice and the surrounding characters, and his poetic prose makes even the most violent sections of the book both horrifying and brilliantly realized. Certainly, this isn't a book for everyone--the depictions of violence and work camps, not to mention hate, are too realistic to be taken easily. Amis' explorations here, though, are powerful and unrelenting. Yes, this is a dark and violent book built to explore darker issues. It is also a masterpiece, beautifully and written and perfectly conceived.
chengiz on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The one good thing about this book is that it is quite readable, I finished it in two sittings (it helps that I find the Soviet Union fascinating -- in a "thank God I wasnt born there" way). Much of the rest often feels good and bad at the same time.The protagonist/narrator *describes* himself as angry, well-read, a war veteran and rapist, labour-camp survivor, black marketeer, technical expert (ie. he is interesting, flawed, multifarious) but what *comes across* due to the writing is a pretentious, literary bore (Amis himself?). The descriptions of the Gulag and insights into the Soviet Union are well put, but there is no feeling in them. Perhaps it's because Amis isnt Russian and it shows: one cant *write* British and *be* Russian at the same time (apparently the narrator's English is so good because he dated an Englishwoman!).The suspense about the brother's letter is felt well by the reader, but there is absolutely no reason for keeping it. Moreover, the contents of the letter are totally and *pretentiously* anticlimactic. The writing towards the end feels confused, and it could be because after the anticlimax of the letter, all I wanted to do was finish the book fast. On the whole, not a bad read, but left me with a "what was the point" dissatisfied feeling, so I wouldnt recommend it.
paperhouses on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I had almost given up on Amis doing Amis over and over again. But the prospect of his writing a russian novel intrigued me. I'm a sucker for those slavs. So glad I took the bait, if you can be glad of reading a book so monstrously depressing. Well realized, well crafted, well done. Perfect tone. Hadn't ever reflected so much on the culture of the gulag. Glad my grandfather got the hell out of Russia.
bhowell on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the first book I have read by Martin Amis though I have had him on my reading list for some time. I can therfore draw no comparisons between it and his previous books. I enjoyed reading the reviews by other members who did that. I can say however that Mr Amis is a very fine writer and I found this first person memoir of a survivor of Stalin's labour camps a compelling read. My overwhelming reaction was that he is just such a good writer. I definitely will be reading more of his books. While the literacy and wit of the narrator may be unrealistic given his personal circumstances (no education) , it was nevertheless brilliant and entertaining. The book is quite readable, two sittings were just right. And I have to admit that the first sitting kept me up a bit late. I did not find the story of the love triangle very interesting, suffering as it did from the usual male fantasy of a woman as nothing but a passive sexual being upon which they project their supposedly profound jealousy, violence and angst. But after all we put up with that in many great books so it is hard to fault Mr Amis for being traditional. This is a Russian story, and the narrator survives WWII as a supposed war hero but is then sent to a slave -labour camp above the Arctic circle called Norlag. Later , his brother arrives at the same camp. Their brutal lives are described but this is in the context of their personal relationship and their shared history and the narrator's growing political consiousness. There is direct reference to Russia's leaders through the 20th century and the footnotes are a welcome aid. This is a political novel, a harsh commentary on the repressive politics of Russia, and the book ends with a discussion of Russia's dramatic fall in birhrate, perhaps a rational response to life.
soylentgreen23 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I never expected to read this: a book by Martin Amis about life in a Russian forced-labour camp. It's like Solzhenitsyn in a way, only more than just a day's sojourn into the horror. And it would have to be Amis, choosing as he does a Russian war hero and notorious thug and rapist as his lead character.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ya sure
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Amis' novel is not only an introspection into the relationship of two Russian brothers. While this surface plot is moving an exceedingly well written, those who have read Conrad's Under Western Eyes and Dostoyevsky will also enjoy the numerous quotes and ideas from these authors and their works that Amis includes in order to show the difference between actual Russia and the Russia that is perceived by Europe. This is a superb work.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 2004, the wealthy octogenarian Russian tours one of his former homes, the gulag and several other such horrific places. As he looks around this place of horror, he writes down what he sees and what he remembers so that his American 'stepdaughter' Venus will never forget long after he dies.---------- He compare the Russian-American relationship today to that of his time along with his brother Lev in the Norlag concentration camp from 1948-1956. On top of his memories, he provides Venus with a second letter that a dying Lev sent him in 1982 soon after his nephew died in Afghanistan. He thinks about his first love, Lev's wife Zoya, who married a Soviet apparatchik before becoming a drunk. Life has been hard on him and his family, but he can go peacefully because his Venus lives in affluence in America.------------ Though not quite as powerful as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn¿s THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO 1918-1956, the brothers and Zoya are compelling characters as readers will envision Stalin¿s death camps from their perspectives. The key message of ¿never forget so that history does not repeat itself¿ hits home throughout the plot and is accentuated when the unnamed narrator and Zoya meet years later at a gulag¿s HOUSE OF MEETINGS. In contrast, Venus comes across as a stereotypical shallow ugly American who has no appreciation for what her ¿stepfather¿ or others went through as she has never had to sacrifice any of affluent lifestyle for any cause or atrocity. She serves as contrast to a evocative look at the effect of surviving carnage.--------- Harriet Klausner