Monday, January 28, 2008

BOOK: House of Meetings by Martin Amis

House of Meetings by Martin Amis

notable books challenge

These aren't called reading challenges for nothing. Some books make you think and really challenge your reading ability. House of Meetings by Martin Amis is from the New York Times Notable Book list of 2007. I haven't read any books by Amis before but I have heard his name.

The summary made it sound like a great plot: two brothers in love with the same woman, the pivotal night of a conjugal visit, ten years in a Soviet slave labour camp, a mysterious letter. It was well written, and well paced, in fact so well written that there were words here I've never seen before, and unfortunately, I don't look words up. It made me feel like I was a kid in grade five trying to read a grade ten reading level novel.

Also unfortunately, I didn't connect with the characters in this novel in any way.

Maybe it is a gender bias, as the other reviews are raves, but I didn't like reading this mean, and self-described violent man's life story. And maybe this is a trend, as I've read reviews of other books, like The Sea by John Banville and Everyman by Philip Roth, which are perhaps similar type books, old man telling his life story, and this just isn't connecting with some female readers. It was the plot of course, but I'm not sure what purpose it would serve to write this memoir to your twenty year old daughter. It felt self indulgent to burden a child with such a horrible story. And much like Tomorrow or On Chesil Beach, the final reveal was such a let down that it made me wonder what the fuss was about.

I'm trying to figure out why I didn't really enjoy this book. I didn't hate it, and there are probably people who would like it. The few books I've read set in Russia have found me having difficulty identifying with the culture. After reading Russka by John Rutherford years ago, I realized that that isolated country is so very different from European/American life, it makes it hard to connect. If you had an interest in Soviet life, this would be worthwhile. There is a lot of psychological character study here, and I do think there is a gender issue. I should be able to read about a man's inner struggle, but I didn't like it. Maybe I'm too soft but I don't want to imagine what happens to the psych after surviving ten years in a slave labour camp. It doesn't make the book bad, but if I am reading and choosing to immerse myself in a book for a few days, I do get to make that choice. It just makes the book not a good fit for me.


  1. I am not familiar with this book or the author at all, but I am sorry you didn't care for it. Usually I have no trouble stepping into the shoes of a character or narrator regardless of gender, but sometimes, something doesn't click for me and I have trouble relating on that level. It could be the way the story is written, the story itself, or even the characters or narrator. Maybe the tone of the narration doesn't sit well with me.

  2. wendy - exactly. I was trying to decide what it was that wasn't quite right for me. And I wanted to explain what I didn't like, because I imagine others might like this and I didn't want to give a terrible review. There are some books, *literature*, that I don't seem to get. Lots of other people do, but it's not the way my brain thinks. I keep trying them, but they aren't working for me yet.

  3. Thanks for reviewing this. I've read Times Arrow and loved it. I was curious about his other books, but this one does not sound like something I would like, either.

  4. pam - If you have liked another of his books, you might try it. It wasn't long! What was Times Arrow about? This cover said - his most accessible fiction ever, which certainly scares me for his other books.


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