Monday, March 3, 2014

Night TrainNight Train by Martin Amis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Almost to the very end, Martin Amis' "Night Train" reads as a police procedural. Mike Hoolihan is an experienced female detective in a fictitious large city in the U.S. Jennifer, Mike's friend, and a daughter of a high-ranking police official, dies in suspicious circumstances, and her father, who once was Mike's boss, asks her to investigate. Jennifer's perfect beauty and her successful life seem to be incompatible with suicide, yet this is what the facts of the case seem to indicate.

However, if one reads the book carefully - or even better - when one reads it twice, it becomes clear that it is not a police procedural at all. Martin Amis is a "serious" (and famous) British writer and in "Night Train" he seems to have delivered a nice piece of "meta-literature" where he plays with concepts of genre, plot, and meaning. Even the selection of Mike as the name for the female detective seems to be a part of the author's plan of deception.

Mr. Amis is certainly a master of the craft of writing. He follows the most important commandment of the craft: be concise! Delete, delete, delete. I am also impressed by the structure of this very short novel, i.e., by its two levels: the ostensibly standard mystery book level and then the deeper meta-level.

I have doubts as to the inclusion of three short stories (each about a page long) that are external to the plot. I do not see any need for the cliche stories about an autoeroticism-related death or about a baby in the cooler, unless the author's purpose is to deepen the pretense that we are dealing with a run-of-the-mill mystery novel. I am ambivalent as to the third story, the one about the retiring mailman. While being external to the plot, it might be a part of the meta-plot. I am not clever enough to figure this out and while there are tens if not hundreds of deep literary studies on the subject of this novel, I have not yet found the answer.

Other than some facts about suicide, I have not learned much about people or the world from this novel. I have certainly learned that Mr. Amis is an extremely clever writer, and that one should not judge the book before reading its very last sentence.

Almost four stars.

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