I really enjoyed this Martin Amis book, which is about a man reflecting over his life in Soviet Russia, first as a war hero, then as a Gulag inmate and, after release living through the Cold War and the eventual collapse of the USSR.
The book is presented as a series of letters from the protagonist to his stepdaughter in America, and this structure enables Amis to build the plot in a traditional manner, this is a bread and butter novel.
Amis’ descriptions of Gulag life is especially good, and the prose is simple but harrowingly effective as he talks about, “spasms of frenzied hunger” and the comfort of the foetal position when the cold becomes un bearable, and it is as convincing as when you read Primo Levi’s “This is a Man” which is about how the Italian survived Auschwitz.
Life in the Soviet Union is seen as just crushingly average, poverty of aspiration as the State controls your destiny seems to be the most common experience for the majority of its citizens.
Western life has many bad points, mainly inequality of opportunity, but at least people don’t just drift around in a sea of greyness, which is what Amis and other writers such as Solzhenitsyn (“One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch”, “Cancer Ward”) and Mikhail Shokolov, (“And Quiet Flows the Don”) show the Russian people, in many ways so spirited as being emotionally sterilized and crushed which may go some way to explaining their love affair with the vodka bottle, and periodic bursts of anti Semitism. All that angst and pent up disappointment. It has to come out somehow.
In The House Of Meetings Amis imagines what would happen if the inmates were allowed conjugal visits, and the anti climax that would ensue. In this case the narrator’s brother shows up in the Gulag and it transpires that he took the meaning of “look after my girlfriend whilst I’m away” a bit too literally.
But given her portrayal as a feisty and free spirited artist, it’s no wondering as to why younger brother was led off the straight and narrow.
The characters are full blooded, interesting and all flawed in some way, which is just like life itself making you care what happens to them.
All this makes the shock of reading, “Lionel Asbo- The State of England” (2012) all the more mystifying. The novel is pure malevolence aimed at the working class. A truly horrible and putrid piece of garbage.
The premise is simple. Amis’ liberal elite view of white working people is that uncovered by Owen Jones in, “Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class” (2012). They are collectively stupid, feckless, violent, sexually depraved, racist, addicted and reproducing as soon as there is grass on the pitch.
The book is abysmally written with no ear for dialogue or humour. There has been not one jot of research done and it might as well be a manifesto for a Party that makes UKIP seems all cuddly and tolerant.
What Amis has fallen for due to the constant drip of media propaganda that is exists to push the Tory Contempt Agenda. In order to make possible a return to the work house era where it will become politically feasible for the state to cast potentially millions of its citizens adrift by completely withdrawing support, it becomes necessary to create a situation where people cease to care what happens to those whom the state considers to be undeserving of help. This is where Lionel and his family come in.
Naturally there is no discussion as to why there is an underclass in the first place. That would entail debate on the causes of inequality and why Capitalism is in constant need of scapegoats.
There is an example of what happens when one section of society is chucked aside and subject not even to spite, just a complete lack of care. Black Australia.
As of January 2014 Black Australian kids have the second WORST infant mortality rate IN THE WORLD.
2014 also revealed that Black Australians on average live more than 20 years less than the average white Australian.
In 2014 Black Australian children have the same life expectancy as white children did in 1900.
So called Aboriginals account for just 3% of the general population and yet over 60% of the people in jail come from this group. This figure outstrips Apartheid South Africa.
If Martin Amis and the elite had their way then UKIP could herald a swing down this road.
And it will be the Labour Party’s fault for the woeful, inept and out of touch way that has developed over the last generation. That’s why a return to Socialism is so desperately needed.