London Fields: Sex, Death, and Darts!

Martin Amis’ London Fields was published in 1989, and its obsession with the end of the millennium is humorously bleak. Or is it bleakly humorous? I don’t know. But there are other obsessions in the book, too. Oddly (to an American), darts is one. So is death. And sex. Definitely sex. And death. Definitely death.

The story is a disturbing love quadrangle. Keith Talent is a violent, misogynistic cheat. Guy Clinch is an inept, credulous romantic. Samson (Sam) Young is an author. And because this is a “modern” novel, he is also the narrator, but he is not “one of those excitable types who get caught making things up.” So does that mean he’s honest? Or does it mean he’s never been caught lying?

Nicola Six (think Sex) is the black hole these men don’t try to escape. When she was a child, she had an imaginary friend named Enola Gay, and Enola had a little boy. Yeah, Mr Amis does not paint with pastels.

Nicola has always been able to sense when something will happen, so she knows she will be murdered on her 35th birthday. She’s looking forward to it. Oh, yes, nearly forgot – the world, and everything in it, is shabby. Except Nicola. She’s resplendent and wants to die.

From the beginning we know who the murderer is. We also know Nicola is the “murderee” (she is definitely not the victim), and we know when she will be killed. As Sam explains, the story is not a “whodunit”. It’s a “whydoit”. It succeeds either way.

But why is Nicola obsessed with death? Is she heart-broken? Is she bored? What does Nicola say about it? “I am a male fantasy figure. I’ve been one for fifteen years. It really takes it out of a girl.”

Nicola is every sexual fantasy men have. But is she just drawn that way? Like Jessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. We only see her through Sam’s filter. When Nicola reads a chapter Sam has written about her, she doesn’t recognize herself. But that doesn’t matter to Sam. It’s how he sees her, and he’s writing the story. So does Nicola welcome death because she’s too good for this shabby world? Or is it the only way out of a story in which she does not recognize herself?

Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor

Love is a Many Splendored Thing – Sometimes

So what’s Louise Erdrich’s The Plague of Doves about? Love. Ahh, that sounds really warm and cozy. It is – until it isn’t. This novel is no Hallmark card or cheesy pop song. Its major theme is love in its many forms (splendored or not): young love, mature love, obsessive love, self-love (our favorite), destructive love (which may not be love at all), forbidden love (sweet!), and familial love (whatever).

The novel is primarily set in North Dakota’s Badlands (major metaphor alert) on and near an Ojibwe reservation. However, it opens with the murder of a White family on a farm. The sole survivor is a baby in a crib (the murderer finds her when she starts crying). So now he has a decision to make.

The story then jumps ahead decades to the 1960s. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that shortly after the murders 4 Native Americans came across the scene. When several White men learn about the Native Americans’ presence at the farmhouse, they deputize themselves and (not being too concerned about guilt or innocence) lynch the 4 Native Americans. The murders and the subsequent lynchings permeate the community as if an icy phantom walks through it, even as the descendants from all sides interact and mix. There is no way to “unravel” the rope. “Nothing that happens, nothing, is not connected here by blood.”

The novel is narrated by 4 characters and follows several inter-related families for about 40 years. The proximity of the White and Native communities may breed trouble, but it also creates desire. “We can’t seem to keep our hands off one another, it is true, and every attempt to foil our lusts though laws and religious dictums seems bound instead to excite transgression.” This is not new. But Ms. Erdrich is a skilled writer, and her wonderfully-drawn characters keep the story interesting and the reader engaged. Ultimately, we learn what happened to the baby and who murdered the family. There is a resolution of sorts. But, still, questions linger.

While the murders and lynchings are ever present, this story is about finding, maintaining, and losing love – even the most fulfilled are not exempt. “I have loved intensely. I have lived an ordinary and a satisfying life, and I have been privileged to be of service to people. Most people. There is no one I mourn to the point of madness and nothing I would really do over again.” That sounds like a full life, but Ms. Erdrich is too honest to leave it at that. Fulfilled or not, questions still linger.

Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor.