Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 942
John Self has just traveled from London to New York City to make arrangements for his movie, alternatively titled Money, Good Money, and Bad Money. He takes a horrific taxi ride through Manhattan and engages in excessive drinking that leads to blackouts. He also consumes pornography, both live and simulated. Self meets with producer Fielding Goodney and fends off the stars who are courting him while trying in vain to contact his girlfriend Selina before a massive blackout convinces him that it is time to return to London.
Back in London, Self grounds himself at his father’s pub, the Shakespeare, and makes a bad loan to his best friend, Alec. In a meeting with lesbian screenwriter Doris Arthur, Self describes his movie’s plot—a love triangle between a father, his mistress, and his son that ends with a violent confrontation in the son’s favor. When Arthur questions the mistress’s motivation, Self offers her a tour of the backroom strip club and a slap on the bottom, at which point she storms out before deciding that the paycheck makes his bad behavior more palatable.
Back at his apartment, Self riffles through his mail to discover that he apparently threw Selina out before leaving for New York. She agrees to return on the condition that he open a joint checking account for them. He then visits an oral hygienist for chronic tooth pain that he likens to the hustle of the big city and checks in with his ad agency, whose executives offer him an afternoon on the town but no details on his severance package.
Self flies back to New York to meet with several actors. Caduta Massi convinces him of her maternal tendencies before Goodney takes him on an extravagant tour of New York. Self is stalked by an anonymous telephone voice he calls Frank the Phone and an exceptionally tall, ginger-haired woman. On his thirty-fifth birthday, Self blacks out an entire dinner party with his old friends the Twains, coming to the next morning lying face down on the street. In the midst of several unsuccessful meetings, he lunches apologetically with Martina Twain, and she buys him George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945). The gift contrasts sharply with the mysterious pornographic package he receives at his hotel.
Once again in London, Self meets his father’s new mistress Veronica, who has just done a nude magazine shoot. His car, a Fiasco, gives him some mechanical trouble while he kills time waiting for the next phase in the movie’s production. After Selina accuses him of having real feelings for Martina, he invites Selina to move in with him. Her presence offers a temporary reprieve from his fears that he will end up in jail, as Alec has recently done. Finally, Self confesses that his father once sent him a detailed invoice for the expenses incurred raising him. He paid it; his father bet the money and won enough to buy the Shakespeare.
Meanwhile, Lorne Guyland has been rewriting the father figure in the movie into an educated connoisseur. Self ignores him and tries to see Martina, but she refuses until he finishes reading Animal Farm, and his spirit-befuddled memory leads him into another painfully embarrassing evening adventure he cannot recall. When he finally endures his own company for long enough to read, Martina explains that it was an allegory and offers him another Orwell novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). His second attempt at culture is interrupted by the arrival of the script. As soon as he reads the script, Self goes to Goodney’s hotel room to demand that he fire Arthur. Since Goodney is sleeping with her, neither of them are amenable to Self’s suggestions, and yet another botched date with Martina sends him back to London.
There, Selina distresses him by refusing sex and, more poignantly, by refraining from any extravagant shopping sprees. Self experiences a surge of patriotism from Prince Charles’s impending marriage to Lady Diana, and the writer Martin Amis agrees to rewrite the script for an exorbitant fee. Self then attempts to rape Selina before visiting Alec in prison and trying once more to obtain his severance package. While he is not successful, he does learn that Selina has been having an affair. She confirms that she is pregnant and that her relationship with Self is her alibi so she can prove Ossie Twain’s paternity and sue for maintenance.
Self has sex with Butch Beausoleil; the act is videotaped, to Self’s horror. Butch agrees to erase the tape only after Self beats her. Shortly thereafter, Martina takes Self to the opera Otello (1887) and confesses her knowledge of the affair between her husband and his girlfriend. They begin living together, but Self finds it nearly impossible to attain the nakedness of self that comes naturally to Martina. Finally, Selina seduces him and arranges for Martina to discover them, at which point his credit suddenly loses currency.
Self and Frank the Phone tangle in a dark alley. His attacker is also the ginger-haired woman, revealed to be Fielding Goodney in drag, who confesses to having duped Self into spending his own advance. Broke, Self barely escapes New York, sleeps with his father’s mistress, and decides to kill himself. When he pauses to play chess with Amis, the author explains Goodney’s deception, as well as his own part in the graft. The two fight, Self is knocked unconscious, and the author leaves. Self then describes his own suicide before revealing that he survived and is now living humbly with his girlfriend Georgina and the knowledge that Fat Vince is his real father.