The Zone of Interest. Amis and Auschwitz. Aren’t we depressed enough already?

I was completely in the wrong place for this – Robin Williams’s death, ISIS atrocities, the new anti-Semitism, Islamism gaining ground worldwide.

Do we need to be told the Holocaust was a bad idea? Yes, as often as possible.

However, David Sexton rather sceptical:

Speaking of bad taste, I was especially miffed when a blood-soaked barbarian recently described battlefield Jihad as ‘a cure for depression’. Way to tarnish my brand, fella.

James Runcie not totally won over, another excellent critique.

I felt queasy ever since this was announced but the publishers have done a brilliant job selling The Zone of Interest as a love story, and using a marvellous fable in the blurb, like movie producers putting all the best bits in the trailer,


‘There was an old story about a king who asked his favourite wizard to create a magic mirror. This mirror didn’t show you your reflection. Instead, it showed you your soul – it showed you who you really were. But the king couldn’t look into the mirror without turning away, and nor could his courtiers. No one could.

What happens when we discover who we really are? And how do we come to terms with it? Fearless and original, The Zone of Interest is a violently dark love story set against a backdrop of unadulterated evil, and a vivid journey into the depths and contradictions of the human soul.’



House of Meetings, set in a Russian Gulag, felt more organic, certainly more satisfying.

If you’re such a brilliant essayist why write a novel, especially using familiar material? If there’s an unbearably moving account of an atrocity you think: shouldn’t I be reading this in the original?

Mark Diston, (great Amis name, see Lionel Asbo) wondered, correctly, why on earth a Nazi officer would be discussing WH Auden (in The Register but that’s literature for you. Doesn’t have to make any sense, apparently. At least not if it’s got ‘Martin Amis’ on the cover.

Overall, it’s bitty, doesn’t progress organically. Part of the ending is moving, reminiscent of Flaubert’s Sentimental Education, but the aftermath just lists the fate of some other protagonists, in a perfunctory manner. The afterword is long and sententious, not helped by the picture of Martin Boorman’s fat, smirking face. That reminded me of Ricky Gervais, just to put the tin helmet on it.

Night Train purposefully didn’t explain suicide. This doesn’t explain the Holocaust. I hope he’s not going to not explain anything else grim.

A very minor point: I don’t know what the big whoop is with long exotic names – Mike Szabatura in Experience and longer, crunchier ones here. Others mentioned that as a positive.

Could be wrong, will be re-reading. It is undeniably haunting but not actually that funny. My heart strings remained untwanged. Some memorable, poetic sentences but far too much wallowing in long, ugly German words. I lived there, had two German partners but I don’t want to read that much Deutsch. If you’re trying to say that the language itself has something to do with fascism, as briefly mooted, well, ISIS don’t speak Deutsch. Neither did the Khmer Rouge and many others too depressing to mention.

Ah well. Despite some disappointments I’ve been hooked since the late seventies. I keep coming back because I’m Self-ish. I want another narrator like Money’s John Self. And there isn’t another comedic literary writer, with such wordplay or the love of low life.

I suppose he has earned the right to be transgressive. Not every experiment succeeds. But however sincere he is this still looks like a career move – you won’t get as much acclaim for a contemporary comedy.

Most critics disagree. So far.

Readers, not so concerned about looking good, may be less positive.

ps He admits it’s inconclusive and depressing (Today radio 4). So if you already have enough puzzling gloom this may be a tad superfluous.

If you’re up to the ice bucket challenge for the soul, it’s undeniably haunting.


“Manic Depression. The Mike Tyson of mental diseases.” Martin Amis Night Train


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s