How does the opening passage of London Fields prepare the reader for the rest of the novel?
From “This is a true story…” to “they just write it down.”
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The opening passage of London Fields prepares the reader for the novel's most prominent theme, that of the unreliability of the written word.
The novel is narrated by the failed novelist Sam Young. When the book opens, Sam is chronically ill, and has decided to uproot himself from America to spend his final months in London. When he arrives, he encounters a trio of characters embroiled in a real life murder plot. In the opening passage of the book, he celebrates his luck at having walked into a novel-worthy sequence of events that he merely has to copy onto the page.
What a gift. This page is briefly stained by my tears of gratitude. Novelists don't usually have it so good, do they, when something real happens (something unified, dramatic, and pretty saleable), and they just write it down? (1)
Reading further on in the text, we come to realize how wary and distrustful this first passage should make the reader feel. At this point, Sam still sees himself as the author of the narrative, but as time passes it becomes evident that he actually stars "in a book written by somebody else." Along with Keith and Guy, his narrative is wholly directed by the deceptive Nicola Six. We have to wonder, is he simply recording the story of her murder, or is she feeding it to him, therefore claiming some authorship over the text?
There are, in fact, levels and levels of unreliable text, authors, and narrators in the novel. Firstly, we have to acknowledge the presence (though physical absence) of Mark Asprey in the book, the successful writer from whom Sam rents his London flat. It's significant that Asprey's initials are M.A., the same as Martin Amis', suggesting that Asprey's presence is more tangible than originally thought. Asprey has also left a manuscript of his autobiography behind—a story so exaggerated there seems no possibility that it could hold any truth. M.A. then, whether Martin Amis or Mark Asprey or his other pen name Marius Appleby, is clearly an author who has no desire to record the truth.
Secondly, Sam "writes" the novel thanks to information gathered from Nicola's diary. Can we be so sure that a woman as deceptive as Nicola—an actress who portrays herself as an entirely different persona for every character she interacts with—is truthful in her diary, which so conveniently happens to fall into the hands of a writer?
The novel has more examples of false information throughout. Keith, for instance, chooses to rely solely on outrageous tabloids for his daily news. Guy is gullible and easily influenced by his wife and Nicola’s lies. Add that to the fact that Sam's novel, passed off as a true story, is the only one of his works to be eagerly picked up by an agent and you get the gist of Amis' message: lies sell.
Overall, this first page gives the reader the initial inkling that Sam is an unreliable narrator living in a world of gossip and tabloids where the truth counts for very little. Its intent is to make one think of to what extent one can trust the written word, which is developed as an important theme in London Fields.
It doesn’t matter what anyone writes any more.… The truth doesn’t matter any more and is not wanted. (452)
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