The Information

(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

With The Information, Martin Amis again shows why he is one of England’s most highly regarded novelists. This tale of literary jealousy and revenge is a wicked satire of contemporary insecurities and inadequacies. The novel was published with an unusual degree of fanfare, partly because Amis’ proponents hoped it would be the masterpiece of which he is clearly capable and partly because of the extraliterary baggage it carried. While The Information is a brilliantly written examination of success and failure, it is not all it might have been, not as compelling a vision of civilization collapsing as the twentieth century limps to a close as Amis’ London Fields (1990).

The Information received considerable publicity in both Great Britain and America. Amis instructed his agent, Pat Kavanagh, to ask his British publisher, Jonathan Cape, for $780,000 for the rights to the novel; she was reluctant, because it was unlikely to produce the sales to justify such a fee. Amis then replaced her with Andrew Wylie, an American attacked in the English press as “the Jackal.” Many of Amis’ fellow writers, notably novelist A. S. Byatt, the acclaimed author of Possession (1990), joined the fray to ridicule what they saw as greed. Much attention was also given to Amis’ needing the money because of such extravagances as spending $31,000 on cosmetic dental work. Amis’ severing his relations with Kavanagh also ended his lengthy friendship with her husband, novelist Julian Barnes, best known for Flaubert’s Parrot (1984). The media pointed out Barnes’s superficial resemblance to one of the protagonists of The Information, but Amis denied such a connection.

In the novel itself, Richard Tull has published two little-read, painfully serious novels and longs for his new work, Untitled, to have a more successful reception. Working in public relations, his wife, Gina, essentially supports the family, which includes their twin sons, Marco and Marius, while Richard supplements the pennies his fiction has earned by editing The Little Magazine, a venerable if inconsequential literary journal, serving as a director of Tantalus Press, a vanity publisher, and cranking out book reviews, primarily of biographies of minor writers.

In contrast, Gwyn Barry, Richard’s closest friend, is on top of the literary world. After a first, autobiographical novel makes little impact, Gwyn publishes Amelior, about a utopian community, to similar lack of acclaim—only to have word of mouth turn it into a worldwide best-seller and its author into a glamorous media figure. Not only is Gwyn constantly quoted and referred to in the press and interviewed on television, not only is Amelior being turned into a major film, not only does Gwyn appear in a rock video, but he also marries the beautiful Lady Demeter, whom Richard considers highly desirable.

Richard is not jealous because his friend since their university days is successful and he is not. The problem is that Gwyn’s glory is undeserved. He is not as smart as Richard and always loses to him at chess, snooker, and tennis. Richard is appalled that Gwyn’s book is so beloved when it is completely without literary merit. Richard’s dim view of Amelior is not simply the product of his jealousy, for numerous others, including Gina and Demi, cannot fathom its success either.

Richard decides to get revenge but keeps changing his mind about how to attain it. Steve Cousins, a mysterious criminal known as “Scozzy,” approaches him with an offer to arrange bodily harm for Gwyn, but instead Richard himself is assaulted by accident. Richard plans to cuckold Gwyn but cannot because of impotence. Commissioned to accompany Gwyn on a book-signing tour of America and write about the experience, Richard plans to publish an unflattering exposé of his friend. When Gwyn sets his heart on winning the Profundity Requital, an annual literary stipend for life, Richard plots against him by approaching the judges with tales of Gwyn’s racism, hatred of animals, and other sins. Because Richard’s lies make Gwyn sound more interesting than his bland fiction, however, he wins the award. Richard even types Amelior with minor changes in the hope of passing the result off as a forgotten manuscript by an unknown writer whom Gwyn has plagiarized.

The Information is a comic portrait of these two men, both essentially nonentities, combined with a satire of literary infighting and Amis’ usual take on sex, violence, and greed in a chaotic society. Richard’s bitterness at his literary failure is manifested in his physical deterioration, including a flabby...

(The entire section is 1935 words.)