Martin Amis's "Oktober" was originally published in the December 7, 2015 issue of The New Yorker. Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage.
Oh boy, what do we have here? Another story by Martin Amis, but will it reaffirm his genius or his failings? Probably a bit of both, and I’m anxious to see which aspect people see shining through in “Oktober,” billed in the interview as “Martin Amis on Europe’s Crises.”
Here’s how it begins.
I sat drinking black tea in the foyer of the hotel. (This was in Munich.) A lady wearing a lustrous purple trouser suit was seated at the keys of the baby grand in the far corner, her rendition of “Hungarian Rhapsody” (with many adornments and curlicues) for now unable to drown out the inarticulate howling and baying from the bar beyond the lifts. It was the time of Oktoberfest, and the city was playing host to six million visitors, thereby quintupling its population — visitors from all over Bavaria, and from all over Germany, and from all over the world. Other visitors, a far smaller contingent, were also expected, visitors who hoped to stay, and to stay indefinitely; they were coming from what was once known as the Fertile Crescent.
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Novelists should never deal in duties or obligations. But if they feel a literary impulse to take on political realities — then by all means.
That is from this week’s New Yorker interview with Amis, which you can read here.
This doesn’t feel like fiction at all to me. In fact, it reminds me of a creative writing assignment from college: write something true that happened to you and write something made-up. The class then votes which was the fiction. I vote that this is not very “fictional,” based on the voice, the pacing of the story, and the seemingly didactic purpose.
The ideas and thoughts readers will find addressed in this story:
- a literary narrator
- ID theft
- vignettes of Thomas Wolfe and Nabokov
- repetition of history
The repetitions. You go through the same things again and again. And it just doesn’t sink in.
Readers are intelligent. And here they find an event in an author’s life melded together with his way of approaching (forcing connections between) ideologies rather than a tale exploring universal truths from a side angle. Readers are not encouraged to form their own opinions by watching a story in action. Here, instead, they are overtly lead to situations and instructed what to make of them . . . like fifth graders. Almost like an “obligation”. . .
The tone of the writing was easy and flowing — conversational and intimate. I am sure Amis is a wonderful writer, for he executed great skill in the act of writing. The content, however, left me frustrated and unimpressed.