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.

December 7, 2015Oh 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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Adrienne’s thoughts:

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:

  • politics
  • festivals
  • war
  • refugees
  • women
  • religion
  • geriatrics
  • inclusion
  • bigotry
  • a literary narrator
  • family
  • business
  • alcohol
  • ID theft
  • vignettes of Thomas Wolfe and Nabokov
  • borders
  • immigration
  • history
  • 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.

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By |2015-11-30T18:09:27-04:00November 30th, 2015|Categories: Martin Amis, New Yorker Fiction|Tags: |7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Trevor Berrett November 30, 2015 at 6:10 pm

    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.

    That sums up Amis for me. Particularly the Amis of the last fifteen years.

  2. Roger December 2, 2015 at 11:31 pm

    As Adrienne points out, this isn’t fiction at all, and Treisman’s interview confirms this. Well, probably the caricature of the mean businessman verbally abusing his elderly mother may have been fiction. What a lazy bunch of word-doodling. I should have brought some backup reading with me on my short ride on the stationary bike.

  3. Sean H December 6, 2015 at 10:14 pm

    Oh, New Yorker, trying to be topical. This is a misfire for everyone involved and while Amis’s prose is competent, it’s far from accomplished. A truly exceptional short story rarely takes less than a year to fully emerge and be properly edited and rewritten. This one feels rushed, cobbled together, more of an idea or an exercise than a work of sustaining literature. The various elements don’t cohere into a unified whole and it just makes Amis look like he’s trying too hard. The Nabokov move was a notably bad one. It conjures too many images of better writing (particularly “That In Aleppo Once…”) and makes Amis look like he’s trying to equate himself with the canonical greats. It’s also politically and historically absurd to conclude that the journey of V.N. is somehow the same as or even similar to Syrians fleeing a civil war in a world where the west is at perpetual war with militant Islam. Come on now, this is an injustice to all refugees, to equate their situations and speak in generalities instead of particulars.

  4. Hannes December 8, 2015 at 7:13 am

    I’ve been reading you’re comments on the New Yorker stories for months – thanks a lot for your insights.
    As I’ve been living in Munich for almost ten years, this story was particularly interesting for me. I agree with most of what has been said: it does not feel like fiction, it does feel cobbled together. What I like about it, however, is the parallelism of the refugee crisis and Oktoberfest basically happening at the same place. The narrator watches the events as a stranger in Munich and in the end, we all are strangers, confronted with a new, challenging situation. Amis captures the atmosphere of the city, the crisis being a topic in every single conversation you have, the absurdity of having six millions visitors from all over the world – most being drunk for a good time of their visit – while refugees are arriving a few hundred meters next to Theresienwiese.
    It probably should not have been a short story but for me, Amis succeeds in capturing an unique moment in the history of this city.

  5. Greg December 16, 2015 at 9:40 pm

    Thank you Hannes for sharing your personal connection to this story. It’s neat to get the perspective from a Munich resident!

    And thanks to Adrienne and Sean for once again sharing your weekly thoughts on the NYR story…..I am grateful to be able to count on both of you every week to provide your critiques and thus increase my enjoyment of the stories!

  6. Rod Owen December 22, 2015 at 12:14 pm

    Simply loved it. Measured. Close observation. So shall we nit-pick that this isn’t fictional- enough? Excellent writing.

  7. Ken December 26, 2015 at 6:36 pm

    I join the negative chorus–This is not fiction. Why not just write an article for The New Yorker, who’d be glad to publish something by Martin Amis, and leave it at that. His self-congratulatory self-portrait is sickening–especially how erudite Dear Martin is and has to be confronted by such nasty vulgarians. I detested this in a way I rarely detest anything in The New Yorker.

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