Fame, envy, lust, violence, intrigues literary and criminalthey're all here in The Information. How does one writer hurt another writer? This is the question novelist Richard Tull mills over, for his friend Gwyn Barry has become a darling of book buyers, award committees, and TV interviewers, even as Tull himself sinks deeper into the sub-basement of literary failure. The only way out of this predicament, Tull believes, is the plot the demise of Barry.
"With The Information, Amis delivers a portrait of middle-age realignment with more verbal felicity and unbridled reach than [anyone] since Tom Wolfe forged Bonfire of the Vanities."Houston Chronicle
About the Author
Martin Amis is the best-selling author of several books, including London Fields, Money, The Information, and, most recently, Experience. He lives in London.
Date of Birth:August 25, 1949
Place of Birth:Oxford, England
Education:B.A., Exeter College, Oxford
Read an Excerpt
Cities at night, I feel, contain men who cry in their sleep and then say Nothing. It's nothing. Just sad dreams. Or something like that . . . Swing low in your weep ship, with your tear scans and your sob probes, and you would mark them. Women-and they can be wives, lovers, gaunt muses, fat nurses, obsessions, devourers, exes, nemeses-will wake and turn to these men and ask, with female need-to-know, "What is it?" And the men say, "Nothing. No it isn't anything really. Just sad dreams."
Just sad dreams. Yeah: oh sure. Just sad dreams. Or something like that.
Richard Tull was crying in his sleep. The woman beside him, his wife, Gina, woke and turned. She moved up on him from behind and laid hands on his pale and straining shoulders. There was a professionalism in her blinks and frowns and whispers: like the person at the poolside, trained in first aid; like the figure surging in on the blood-smeared macadam, a striding Christ of mouth-to-mouth. She was a woman. She knew so much more about tears than he did. She didn't know about Swift's juvenilia, or Wordsworth's senilia, or how Cressida had variously fared at the hands of Boccaccio, of Chaucer, of Robert Henryson, of Shakespeare; she didn't know Proust. But she knew tears. Gina had tears cold.
"What is it?" she said.
Richard raised a bent arm to his brow. The sniff he gave was complicated, orchestral. And when he sighed you could hear the distant seagulls falling through his lungs.
"Nothing. It isn't anything. Just sad dreams."
Or something like that.
After a while she too sighed and turned over, away from him. There in the night their bed had the towelly smell of marriage.
He awoke at six, as usual. He needed no alarm clock. He was already comprehensively alarmed. Richard Tull felt tired, and not just underslept. Local tiredness was up there above him-the kind of tiredness that sleep might lighten-but there was something else up there over and above it. And beneath it. That greater tiredness was not so local. It was the tiredness of time lived, with its days and days. It was the tiredness of gravity-gravity, which wants you down there in the center of the earth. That greater tiredness was here to stay: and get heavier. No nap or cuppa would ever lighten it. Richard couldn't remember crying in the night. Now his eyes were dry and open. He was in a terrible state-that of consciousness. Some while ago in his life he had lost the knack of choosing what to think about. He slid out of bed in the mornings just to find some peace. He slid out of bed in the mornings just to get a little rest. He was forty tomorrow, and reviewed books.
In the small square kitchen, which stoically awaited him, Richard engaged the electric kettle. Then he went next door and looked in on the boys. Dawn visits to their room had been known to comfort him after nights such as the one he had just experienced, with all its unwelcome information. His twin sons in their twin beds. Marius and Marcus were not identical twins. And they weren't fraternal twins either, Richard often said (unfairly, perhaps), in the sense that they showed little brotherly feeling. But that's all they were, brothers, born at the same time. It was possible, theoretically (and, Richard surmised, their mother being Gina, also practically) that Marcus and Marius had different fathers. They didn't look alike, especially, and were strikingly dissimilar in all their talents and proclivities. Not even their birthdays were content to be identical: a sanguinary summer midnight had interposed itself between the two boys and their (again) very distinctive parturitional styles, Marius, the elder, subjecting the delivery room to a systematic and intelligent stare, its negative judgment suspended by decency and disgust, whereas Marcus just clucked and sighed to himself complacently, and seemed to pat himself down, as if after a successful journey through freak weather. Now in the dawn, through the window and through the rain, the streets of London looked like the insides of an old plug. Richard contemplated his sons, their motive bodies reluctantly arrested in sleep, and reef-knotted to their bedware, and he thought, as an artist might: but the young sleep in another country, at once very dangerous and out of harm's way, perennially humid with innocuous libido-there are neutral eagles out on the windowsill, waiting, offering protection and threat.
Sometimes Richard did think and feel like an artist. He was an artist when he saw fire, even a match head (he was in his study now, lighting his first cigarette): an instinct in him acknowledged its elemental status. He was an artist when he saw society: it never crossed his mind that society had to be like this, had any right, had any business being like this. A car in the street. Why? Why cars? This is what an artist has to be: harassed to the point of insanity or stupefaction by first principles. The difficulty began when he sat down to write. The difficulty, really, began even earlier. Richard looked at his watch and thought: I can't call him yet. Or rather: Can't call him yet. For the interior monologue now waives the initial personal pronoun, in deference to Joyce. He'll still be in bed, not like the boys and their abandonment, but lying there personably, and smugly sleeping. For him, either there would be no information, or the information, such as it was, would all be good.
For an hour (it was the new system) he worked on his latest novel, deliberately but provisionally entitled Untitled. Richard Tull wasn't much of a hero. Yet there was something heroic about this early hour of flinching, flickering labor, the pencil sharpener, the Wite-Out, the vines outside the open window sallowing not with autumn but with nicotine. In the drawers of his desk or interleaved by now with the bills and summonses on the lower shelves on his bookcases, and even on the floor of the car (the terrible red Maestro), swilling around among the Ribena cartons and the dead tennis balls, lay other novels, all of them firmly entitled Unpublished. And stacked against him in the future, he knew, were yet further novels, successively entitled Unfinished, Unwritten, Unattempted, and, eventually, Unconceived.
Now came the boys-in what you would call a flurry if it didn't go on so long and involve so much inanely grooved detail, with Richard like the venerable though tacitly alcoholic pilot in the cockpit of the frayed shuttle: his clipboard, his nine-page checklist, his revving hangover-socks, sums, cereal, reading book, shaved carrot, face wash, teeth brush. Gina appeared in the middle of this and drank a cup of tea standing by the sink . . . Though the children were of course partly mysterious to Richard, thank God, he knew their childish repertoire and he knew the flavor of their hidden lives. But Gina he knew less and less about. Little Marco, for instance, believed that the sea was the creation of a rabbit who lived in a racing car. This you could discuss. Richard didn't know what Gina believed. He knew less and less about her private cosmogony.
There she stood, in light lipstick and light pancake and light woolen suit, holding her teacup in joined palms. Other working girls whose beds Richard had shared used to get up at around eleven at night to interface themselves for the other world. Gina did it all in twenty minutes. Her body threw no difficulties in her way: the wash-and-go drip-dry hair, the candid orbits that needed only the mildest of emphasis, the salmony tongue, the ten-second bowel movement, the body that all clothes loved. Gina worked two days a week, sometimes three. What she did, in public relations, seemed to him much more mysterious than what he did, or failed to do, in the study next door. Like the sun, now, her face forbade any direct address of the eyes, though of course the sun glares crazily everywhere at once and doesn't mind who is looking at it. Richard's dressing gown bent round him as he fastened Marius's shirt buttons with his eaten fingertips.
"Can you fasten it?" said Marius.
"Do you want a cup of tea making?" said Gina, surprisingly.
"Knock knock," said Marco.
Richard said, in order, "I am fastening it. No thanks, I'm okay. Who's there?"
"You," said Marco.
"No, fasten it. Come on, Daddy!" said Marius.
Richard said, "You who? You don't mean fasten it. You mean do it faster. I'm trying."
"Are they ready?" said Gina.
"Who are you calling! Knock knock," said Marco.
"I think so. Who's there?"
"What about macks?"
"They don't need macks, do they?"
"Mine aren't going out in that without macks."
"Boo," said Marco.
"Are you taking them in?"
"Boo who? Yeah, I thought so."
"Why are you crying!"
"Look at you. You aren't even dressed yet."
"I'll get dressed now."
"Why are you crying!"
"It's ten to nine. I'll take them."
"No, I'll take them."
"Daddy! Why are you crying?"
"What? I'm not."
"In the night you were," said Gina.
"Was I?" said Richard.
Still in his dressing gown, and barefoot, Richard followed his family out into the passage and down the four flights of stairs. They soon outspeeded him. By the time he rounded the final half-landing the front door was opening-was closing-and with a whip of its tail the flurry of their life had gone.
Richard picked up his Times and his low-quality mail (so brown, so unwelcome, so slowly moving through the city). He sifted and then thrashed his way into the newspaper until he found Today's Birthdays. There it stood. There was even a picture of him, cheek to cheek with his wife: Lady Demeter.
At eleven o'clock Richard Tull dialed the number. He felt the hastening of excitement when Gwyn Barry himself picked up the telephone.
Richard exhaled and said measuredly, ". . . You fucking old wreck."
Gwyn paused. Then the elements came together in his laugh, which was gradual and indulgent and even quite genuine. "Richard," he said.
"Don't laugh like that. You'll pull a muscle. You'll break your neck. Forty years old. I saw your obit in The Times."
"Listen, are you coming to this thing?"
"I am, but I don't think you'd better. Sit tight, by the fire. With a rug on your lap. And an old-boy pill with your hot drink."
"Yes, all right. Enough," said Gwyn. "Are you coming to this thing?"
"Yeah, I suppose so. Why don't I come to you around twelve-thirty and we'll get a cab."
"You fucking old wreck."
Richard sobbed briefly and then paid a long and consternated visit to the bathroom mirror. His mind was his own and he accepted full responsibility for it, whatever it did or might do. But his body. The rest of the morning he spent backing his way into the first sentence of a seven-hundred-word piece about a seven-hundred-page book about Warwick Deeping. Like the twins, Richard and Gwyn Barry were only a day apart in time. Richard would be forty tomorrow. The information would not be carried by The Times. The Times, the newspaper of record. Only one celebrity lived at 49E Calchalk Street; and she wasn't famous. Gina was a genetic celebrity. She was beautiful, every inch, and she didn't change. She got older, but she didn't change. In the gallery of the old photographs she was always the same, staring out, while everyone else seemed disgracefully protean, kaftaned Messiahs, sideburned Zapatas. He sometimes wished she wasn't: wasn't beautiful. In his present travail. Her brother and sister were ordinary. Her dead dad had been ordinary. Her mother was still around for the time being, fat and falling apart and still mountainously pretty somehow, in a bed somewhere.
We are agreed-come on: we are agreed-about beauty in the flesh. Consensus is possible here. And in the mathematics of the universe, beauty helps tell us whether things are false or true. We can quickly agree about beauty, in the heavens and in the flesh. But not everywhere. Not, for instance, on the page.
In the van, Scozzy looked at 13 and said,
"Morrie goes to the doctor, right?"
"Right," said 13.
13 was eighteen and he was black. His real name was Bently. Scozzy was thirty-one, and he was white. His real name was Steve Cousins.
Scozzy said, "Morrie tells the doc, he says, 'I can't raise it with my wife. My wife Queenie. I can't raise it with Queenie.'"
Hearing this, 13 did something that white people have stopped really doing. He grinned. White people used to do it, years ago. "Yeah," said 13 expectantly. Morrie, Queenie, he thought: all Jews is it.
Scozzy said, "The doc goes, 'Unlucky. Listen. We got these pills in from Sweden. The latest gear. Not cheap. Like a carpet a pill. Okay?'"
13 nodded. "Or whatever," he said.
They were sitting in the orange van, drinking cans of Ting: pineapple-grapefruit crush. 13's fat dog Giro sat erectly between them on the hand-brake section, keeping still but panting as if in great lust.
"'Take one of them and you'll have a stiffy for four hours. A bonk with a capital O.' Morrie goes home, right?" Scozzy paused and then said thoughtfully, "Morrie rings up the doc and he's like, 'I just took one of them pills but guess what.'"
13 turned and frowned at Scozzy.
"'Queenie's gone shopping! Won't be back for four hours!' The doc says, 'This is serious, mate. Is there anybody else indoors?' Morrie says, 'Yeah. The au pair.' The doc says, 'What she like?' 'Eighteen with big tits.' So the doc goes, 'Okay. Stay calm. You'll have to do it with the au pair. Tell her it's an emergency. Medical matter.'
"Medical matter whatever," murmured 13.
"'Ooh I don't know,' says Morrie. 'I mean a carpet a pill? Seems like an awful waste. I can get a stiffy with the au pair anyway.'
There was silence.
Giro gulped and started panting again.
13 leaned back in his seat. Grin and frown now contested for the suzerainty of his face. The grin won. "Yeah," said 13. "Do it on the carpet is it."
". . . What fucking carpet?"
"You said carpet."
"Pill on the carpet."
"Jesus Christ," said Scozzy. "The pills cost a carpet. Each."
13 looked mildly unhappy. A mere nothing. It would pass.
"A carpet. Jesus. You know: half a stretch."
Nothing-a mere nothing.
"Fucking hell. A stretch is six months. A carpet is half a stretch. Three hundred quid."
It had passed. 13 grinned weakly.
Scozzy said, "You're the one who's always in fucking prison."
With fright-movie suddenness (Giro stopped panting) Richard Tull appeared in the left foreground of the van's glass screen and fixed them with a wince before reefing on by. Giro gulped, and started panting again.
"Woe," said Scozzy.
"The man," 13 said simply.
"He's not the man. The man's the other one. He's his mate." Scozzy nodded and smiled and shook his head with all these things coming together: he loved it. "And Crash does his wife."
What People are Saying About This
"Satirical and tender, funny and disturbing...wonderful." ?Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"With The Information, Amis delivers a portrait of middle-age realignment with more verbal felicity and unbridled reach than [anyone] since Tom Wolfe forged Bonfire of the Vanities." ?Houston Chronicle
"The Information contains some of the most pleasantly wicked passages Amis has ever written.... Vicious fun." ?San Francisco Chronicle
Reading Group Guide
The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group's reading of Martin Amis's The Information. We hope they will enrich your understanding of this brilliant new novel by a writer who has provided one of England's most consistently provocative and commanding voices for over twenty years.
1. The fact that most of the novel's characters, including Richard himself, are described from Richard's rather unbalanced point of view puts into question just how accurately or fairly they are being described. The narrator even breaks in at one point to tell us that "Richard didn't look as bad as he thought he looked. Not yet. If he did, then someone, surely, a woman or a child...would take his hand and lead him to somewhere nice and soft and white..." [p. 44]. If you had to describe the various characters in the book Richard, Gwyn, Gina, Demi, Anstice, Scozzy, 13 more objectively, how would you do it?
2. Who is actually narrating the book? Is it Martin Amis himself, undisguised, or is it some other person, and if so, who? What purpose do the narrator's periodic intrusions into the flow of the story serve?
3. Does Amis succeed in making Richard, in spite of all his faults, sympathetic or at least excusable? Do certain of Richard's secret thoughts such as his reaction to Anstice's suicide strike you as dreadful, or simply honest?
4. Richard assures us he is not a woman-hater. Is he telling the truth? How does he really feel about women, how does he manipulate them and how does he let them manipulate him? Does the novel present women and men as two irreconcilably different species, each unable to fully comprehend the other or to get along? How does Richard and Gina's marriage compare with that of Gwyn and his wife, Demi?
5. Why has Amis chosen The Information as the title for his novel? What is meant by the "information"? Does the word mean the same thing throughout the novel, or does its meaning shift?
6. In spite of their mutual hostility, do you believe that Gwyn and Richard are somehow necessary to one another? Richard says "Whatever happens, we balance each other out....You're part of me and I'm part of you" [p. 358]. Do you find that to be true?
7. What does Scozzy represent within the world Amis has presented? How does Scozzy contrast with the novel's other characters? What are Scozzy's motivations? What does his obsession with pornography signify? How does his world contrast with Richard's?
8. Images of murdered children are present in the text from quite early. What effect does this have upon the reader's state of mind? How does Amis manipulate the reader's perceptions of the story with these images?
9. Gwyn's writing follows a crowd-pleasing formula; does Richard write to formula, too? Writers, Richard believes, aim for "the universal" [p. 232]. How does Richard's idea of the universal differ from Gwyn's?
10. Richard's "passion was the American novel. He had never been to America. Which about summed him up" [p. 87]. Do you think that Richard's "passion" for the American novel is real, or an affectation? How does his trip to America change his conception of literature? How does it refocus his feelings about himself, his family and his obsession with Gwyn?
11. To what degree do children mold the emotional lives of their parents in this novel? Amis detects an affinity between Scozzy and Mrs. Verulam, both childless: "the family was one thing and they were the other" [p. 71]. Why are the childless set apart from the rest of the world? Do Gwyn and Demi, a childless couple, constitute a family? What does Gwyn's refusal to have children indicate?
12. Why does the narrator keep returning to the immense facts of space and the universe? Richard anthropomorphizes the stars, Gwyn writes of astrology as opposed to astronomy: what does this say about them and about human nature generally?
13. What is the significance of the yellow dwarf within the narrative? Why does Amis introduce her? Does her presence have any connection with the stars and planets that the narrator brings into the picture?
14. Richard "was a revenger, in what was probably intended to be a comedy" [p. 96]. At several points during the novel the narrator wonders what genre the story belongs to: comedy, tragedy, romance, or satire. Richard himself sees his life as "anti-comedy" [p. 131]. To which genre do you think the novel belongs, or does it change genre as the story progresses?
15. At the end of the novel, Richard compares himself with "Abel Janszoon Tasman (1603-59): the Dutch explorer who discovered Tasmania without noticing Australia" [p. 373]. What does he mean by this comparison? Do you think that Richard has been permanently changed by Marco's brush with disaster, or will he go back to his life of brooding and rage?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is possibly the best novel I have read in my life. The main character Richard is stunning, smart,well read, a master of the English language, like Amis himself, who is a superb stylist. If you want to read a book, in which you will reread sentences just because they are so luscious, read this.
Amis is orbiting way out there in the Galaxy somewhere, miles ahead of any other author writing today. This sly, sharp and savvy work shows us all just how far the Written Word can be pushed, when it is harnessed to a writer of palpable Humanity who is never-the-less well aware of the ludicrous nature of much of modern life, with all its celebrity obsession and perpetual self-awareness. Somehow - I know not how - this ironic and knowing tale of literary envy and self-regard transcends its own modus operandi. The understated ending is both unbelievably sinister and yet triumphantly dignified, a glorious, howling encapsulation of where we as a global society now stand, and where and how we might advance in the new millennium. I for one cannot wait to see where Amis takes us next.
By the time I read The Information, the novel was notable not so much for its critical success, but for the scandals surrounding its publication, I had already enjoyed London Fields. The Information, while also set in London had a more contemporaneous plot and with its focus on the literati held my attention in spite of Amis's sometimes anarchic prose style. The enormous advance (an alleged £500,000) demanded and subsequently obtained by Amis for the novel attracted what the author described as "an Eisteddfod of hostility" from writers and critics after he abandoned his long-serving agent, the late Pat Kavanagh, in order to be represented by the Harvard-educated Andrew "The Jackal" Wylie. The split was by no means amicable; it created a rift between Amis and his long-time friend, Julian Barnes, who was married to Kavanagh. According to Amis's autobiography Experience (2000), he and Barnes had not resolved their differences. The Information itself deals with the relationship between a pair of British writers of fiction. One, a spectacularly successful purveyor of "airport novels," is envied by his friend, an equally unsuccessful writer of philosophical and generally abstruse prose. The novel is written in the author's classic style: characters appearing as stereotyped caricatures, grotesque elaborations on the wickedness of middle age, and a general air of post-apocalyptic malaise. Amis's novels are somewhat an acquired taste and his claim to be influenced by Jane Austen seems to have dissipated by the appearance of this and later novels. On the other hand perhaps not, with a fascination for words and contemporary relationships Amis's style may mirror our current world in a way not that different from Austen in her world.
The least readable of all Martin Amis novels.
A fine novel from the "cruel, clever young man" school of literature. Amis follows the antagonistic relationship between two writers, one shallow and successful, the other abstruse and an unknown, and describes what happens when the latter decides to exact revenge on the former. "The Information" is genuinely funny; Amis can make you laugh out loud without resorting to standup-style shtick, and his prose is admirably precise and often very effective. Many readers will also enjoy the well-aimed broadsides he takes at Gwynn, the mercenary author who has found success by marketing colorless New Age tripe, and Richard, the avenger, also gives Amis some space to reflect on the inevitable disappointment that comes with entering middle age. Despite all this, "The Information" doesn't strike me as a particularly deep or meaningful novel; I halfway suspect that Amis wrote it in order to vent his frustration with the publishing industry. And publishing, is, after, all, this novel's real subject. If one of the characteristics of great novels is that they make an attempt to define the limits and purpose of literature, "The Information" flunks that test completely. Even though just about everyone we meet works in the book trade, nobody seems to give literature, defined as an art form, a moment's thought. Richard, the failed novelist of the pair, is a book reviewer and sometime editor; Gwynn spends his days going to book-related interviews and photoshoots. I don't get the sense, though, that either one of them has an ounce of literary talent between them. Amis himself would probably call this criticism ridiculous. He isn't a high modernist and isn't trying to be one. Why bother with these value distinctions? Still, this stylistic choice makes his characters appear a little static. "The Information" is, after all, dealing with envy, a literary subject that's yielded a lot of good fruit in the past, but I don't get a sense that this emotion provokes any significant internal change in either of our protagonists during the course of the events described in the novel. Richard and Gwynn start off, respectively as a somewhat bitter and caustically funny former novelist and an ingratiating multimillionaire fraud, and they more or less end up that way, too. This isn't to say I didn't enjoy this book; I did, and wish I could write half as well as Amis does. Still, I can't understand why Saul Bellow, of all people, compares him to Joyce and Flaubet on my copy's back flap. Call me old-fashioned, but I'm hoping that "The Information" isn't the future of writing, or even book publishing.
Amis is bitter so I don't have to be...just grateful that he can get all the angst and anger of my chest, and let me laugh.
There is no doubt that Amis is a literary genius. A fact however that he never tires of showing off about. You couldn't fault the intellectual range he displays however sometimes less is more and the actual story can drag whilst Amis is off performing his amazing feats of literary dexterity.
This book was... interesting. Very masculine in its tone and subject. Interestingly written, with a good amount of skill and an original (if occasionally... pompous? is that the right word?) style; the dialogue especially was extremely well-rendered, in my opinion. Parts of the story were riveting, in a train-wreck sort of way, and parts were very humorous. It was a bit confusing, though, to sway back and forth from dark, bleak comedy to what was I think an attempt at literary depth (see above re: pompous). The best thing about this novel is the way it exposes and depicts the ego -- of men, of writers in particular, and of people in general. That made it worth reading, and worth continuing, even when I was a bit tired of the book overall.