Tuesday, December 18, 2007

House of Meetings

I've just finished Martin Amis’s House of Meetings, and I am a bit confused by my reaction to it.

The story is absolutely bleak—the tale of two Russian brothers who “love” the same woman and are sent to the Gulag—and the main character completely detestable (he confesses to being both a serial rapist and murderer). Yet, I don’t feel depressed, nor do I despise the narrator.

I suspect my mild reaction is based on the notion that such bleakness and brutality is authentically Russian (or at least is consistent with what I, as an American, imagine Russianness to be).

In fact, only one aspect of the novel truly disturbs me. The book is written as a letter to the narrator’s American daughter. The idea that the narrator confesses his crimes and sexual exploits to his daughter feels totally inappropriate and uncomfortable. As a literary devise, the format rings false, and I wish Amis had simply presented the tale in memoir form.

Although Amis tends to tell not show (completely breaking the cardinal rule of all creative writing courses), he is a skilled writer. However, because of the subject matter, I would only recommend the book to fellow Russophiles.

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