London Fields Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Set in Margaret Thatcher’s London, replete with smog, skinheads, and strange weather (the product of El Niño and other meteorological disturbances), London Fields is a grand novel that combines Amis’s mature themes into a compelling synthesis that might be taken as a kind of parable for urban life. Artist figures abound, including Sam, the American narrator who occupies the flat of an absent British writer named Mark Asprey; Keith Talent, the con man and philanderer extraordinaire who treats dart throwing as high art; and the Muse-woman, Nicola Six, who believes she will be murdered on her thirty-fifth birthday, which will occur on November 6 (hence her name, Nicola Six). Nicola is a jaded, listless symbol of the kind of dead end to which glitzy, urban life inevitably leads. She is bored by everything, even by sex, which was once her forte, as documented in photographs once taken by Asprey and later discovered by Sam. Nicola doubles, triples, and quadruples herself in London Fields, adopting various disguises (social worker and groupie at a darts tournament) and playing different roles (demure virgin, schoolteacher, and whore), all the while manipulating the three men who come into her life at the Black Cross pub: Talent, Guy Clinch, and Sam.

Nicola and Keith conspire to defraud Guy, a rich businessman who is snugly ensconced in a world of upper-class privilege with a wife named Hope, a sister-in-law named Lizzyboo, and an obnoxious baby boy named Marmaduke, a veritable demon of the playpen. Keith prides himself on being a “cheat,” a petty criminal who steals directly and indirectly from everyone, even his wife, who faithfully tends their daughter while Keith conducts open affairs with Nicola and a string of women with names such as Debbee, Trish, Analiese, Fran, Iqbala, and Petronella. Keith Talent is one of Amis’s supreme fictional creations, a lewd but dazzling figure who tries to write a book on darts and keep a journal even though he can barely spell. As Martina Twain did with John Self, Nicola Six does with Keith Talent, teaching him how to read John Keats, the true artist of love and beauty. In the end, the only artistry Nicola experiences is that of Sam, who turns murderer and dispatches her in the front seat of his car on November 6, exactly as she predicted.