The Rachel Papers by Martin Amis (1973) 219 p.

Martin Amis is one of the most well-known contemporary British writers, so you have to read him, and since the local library had his first novel The Rachel Papers I figured I’d start there. I say “most well-known” rather than “greatest” or “prestigious,” because apparently he’s a bit of a Marmite figure. The Rachel Papers is a summation of recent events in the life of upper-middle-class Charles Highway, on the brink of his 20th birthday, largely surrounding his meticulous campaign of seduction towards the titular Rachel.

For the most part it’s okay. It drags a lot in the middle, and ultimately feels like a collection of gross-out comedy in the bedroom and bathroom, but it’s well-written and often quite funny. Martin Amis is of course the son of the novelist Kingsley Amis, and in many ways The Rachel Papers struck me very much as the son imitating the father: it’s a sort of bawdier 1970s version of Lucky Jim, a romantic comedy of manners updated for the cynicism of the 1970s. (There’s also Daddy Issue red flags all over it, in Charles’ relationship with his father.) Amis the younger is also apparently an influence on David Mitchell, and indeed I can already see in Charles Highway the blueprints for characters like Robert Frobisher in Cloud Atlas or Hugo Lamb in The Bone Clocks: young, oversexed, adventurous, witty, kinda misogynistic, destined for success, too smart for their own good.

So an okay novel, fairly forgettable, but not bad for a first go (especially considering he was 23 when he wrote it, the bastard). His next is Dead Babies, which is apparently much better.

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