Money by Marin Amis was one of the best books of the 1980s, an almost perfect satire of that awful decade. It is therefore almost inevitable that any novel Amis writes will be compared to that tour-de-force, and often unfavourably. House of Meetings, unfortunately does not stand up well in comparison to Money at all. In fact, there were times when reading this when I almost checked the name on the cover was actually Martin Amis, and not some pale impostor. This book seems to lack almost all of those authorial traits, touches, call them what you will, that enables one to feel an authorial presence, lack Amis himself. There are only a few – far too few – examples of his – almost trademark – linguistic dexterity and flights of fluency. Also, probably, for the first time ever with a Martin Amis book, I cannot remember laughing at all, not even smiling, as I read this. In fact, I had no sense of engagement with it at all, and felt very little authorial engagement with it either. In the end, it became a chore just to finish the book.
The novel is the story of a love triangle between the narrator, and his brother Lev and the woman they both love Zoya set in 20th Century Russia. The central point around which the novel revolves is ‘The House of Meetings’ a place set aside for conjugal visits in the Russian slave camp where both brothers at incarcerated, and where Lev and his then wife Zoya meet for such a visit.
Of course, the tragic events of communist Russia, and post-communist Russia, are played out around this story of these three characters. Unfortunately neither the love-triangle story, nor the greater tragedy of Russia itself seems to engage the reader to any great extent, everything seems distant, almost an exercise, as if all the tragedies, crimes, mistakes and so forth of a triangular relationship, and of the history of 20th century Russia are being ticked off on a list by the author.
It is a shame really. The world could do with yet another great Martin Amis novel, but this one isn’t it.