Money was Martin Amis’s fifth novel, and it firmly established him as a literary talent. Amis’s earlier work suggested his interest in father-son relationships and hinted at his linguistic facility, but it had not prepared his audience for Money’s allegorical attack on the modern world or the explosive power of its narrative voice. Even the themes that seemed somewhat contrived in his earlier novels became in Money rich metaphors for the myriad ways in which the modern self is fragmented.
Money was published in the middle of Ronald Reagan’s presidential administration (1981-1989), which advocated trickle-down economics as a rationale for massive spending, and several years into the similarly conservative Margaret Thatcher’s term as prime minister of the United Kingdom (1979-1990). The novel seems prophetic in its attitude toward the dollar as the absolute democratizing force, if not in the prediction of its singularly corrupting influence. All of the characters are driven by their lust for capital—except Martina, who is already so wealthy she need not care. So long as money plays a factor in Self’s life, he remains indecent. Only when he is left destitute can he establish a sense of self and interact responsibly with others.
The vehicle for the novel’s narrative and themes, narrator and protagonist John Self, forms a formidable obstacle for Amis, who established his early credentials with an expansive vocabulary. A character who spends the entire novel either exceedingly drunk or exceptionally hungover can hardly be expected to turn a phrase as skillfully as the Oxford-educated Amis, yet Self’s verbal acuity is staggering. Amis writes in a rhythmic slang,...
(The entire section is 708 words.)