Money: A Suicide Note by Martin Amis

Money: A Suicide Note by Martin Amis

“Fucking, fighting, drinking, smoking, swearing - all in a day’s work”

Overview: Money is the hilarious story of John Self, one of London's top commercial directors, who is given the opportunity to make his first feature film. He is also living money, talking money, and spending money in his relentless pursuit of pleasure and success. As he attempts to navigate his hedonistic world of drinking, sex, drugs, and excessive quantities of fast food, Self is sucked into a wretched spiral of degeneracy that is increasingly difficult to surface from.

Money has a wild style, moment to moment ravings and feels super realistic. It is outrageous, nerve-racking and makes you think twice about drinking so often. The story is exciting, as the hero is a reprobate, using alcohol, drugs and sex to hide realities from himself. The writing was terrific. Amis described the life in Los Angeles, New York and London very well. If you need a linear story with an upright hero, you won't like this book. 

The lead character is loathsome, the plot contains some really twisted moments, and the language is a bit more flowery than I normally prefer. Throughout the book, John Self (the hero/anti-hero of the novel) really started to grow on me. While this was my first Amis novel, I doubt it will be my last.

Here’s a quote that seems to capture the “flowery” style of writing:

"Each life is a game of chess that went to hell on the seventh move, and now the flukey play is cramped and slow, a dream of constraint and cross-purpose, with each move forced, all pieces pinned and skewered and zugzwanged… But here and there we see these figures who appear to run on the true lines, and they are terrible examples. They're rich, usually."

Dune Messiah - Frank Herbert

Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert

“Sequels are hard if the first one sets the bar”

After I finished the original “Dune”, a coworker picked this up at a flea market and I thought, why not? The problem with these books is that while reading them, there are many awkward and convoluted sentences that I often won’t understand a scene until after it’s over. At which point I’m fascinated by Herbert’s ability to do that, but also wish I felt more immersed in each individual scene.

Dune Messiah is the 2nd book in the Dune Chronicles, was half the length of the first one and less exciting. I still enjoyed it, and it was fun to read, but I didn’t feel like it was on as grand a scale as the original. I’m now stuck at a weird point where I don’t know if I want to read the other 4+ books in the series or move onto something else.

Overall, I’m impressed that Herbert was able to write Dune in the first place, and then to bang out several other books, all in the same writing style that combines epic scenes with philosophy - it’s clear why these books have sold millions of copies. I think for now, I’m going to read some other stuff and then inevitably make my way back to the Dune Chronicles. Each one ends on such a cliffhanger, it’s almost like it was intentional…

The Outsider by Albert Camus

The Outside by Albert Camus

“If you can’t handle heat, don’t go to the beach”

The story is about a man who kills an Arab in French Algiers during a conflict with a friend. He is tried and sentenced to death. The story is divided into two parts, presenting the main character’s first-person narrative view before and after the murder.

This was a Christmas gift, so although I don’t like first person novels, I powered through this 116 page classic in a day or two. Overall, it was interesting, but I wouldn’t read it again. At one point in the story, I wondered if the main character was mentally handicapped or a psychopath, someone born without empathy towards people or animals. In the end, I just realized he was pragmatic, and that instead of feeling guilty for the murder, I can understand why he states he simply feels annoyed by the legal proceedings.

The book had some good lines mixed in with the plain descriptions of his surroundings. One quote that stuck out to me was, “According to the priest, human justice was nothing and divine justice was everything. I pointed out that it was the former which had condemned me.”

I also don’t know if I agree with the quote on the cover, because I’m not sure how much this book marked my life, and certainly not ‘indelibly’.

Dune by Frank Herbert

Dune by Frank Herbert

“Less a novel and more like a whole new world”

Set in the distant future amidst a feudal interstellar society in which various noble houses control planetary fiefs, Dune tells the story of young Paul Atreides, whose family accepts the stewardship of the planet Arrakis.

If you want to talk about building new worlds, Frank Herbert absolutely kills it with Dune. There's a good reason why this novel is being made into a film. It's epic, and at around 500 pages, although a little slow in places, the story is just getting started.

Dune has love, hand to hand combat, futuristic technology, planetary battles, weird voice magic, and sandworms - what more could you ask for in a sci-fi novel?

The book takes some time to get used to, because Herbert uses so many adjectives to describe things and those are mixed in with odd names, new planets, made up weapons, and titles that don’t exist in the English language. Once you get accustomed to all of that (or refer to the included appendix) the book is a well-written adventure that kept me engaged from start to finish. Although I highly recommend Dune, I don’t know if I have it in me to finish the five other books in the Dune Chronicles. With that said, I’m looking forward to the movie and hope, as do most other people, that they don’t mess it up too badly.

The Chrysalids - John Wyndham

The Chrysalids - John Wyndham

“Learning to accept yourself is easier when ‘thought’ than said”

The novel takes place in a dystopian society set in the future after a nuclear holocaust. The inhabitants of the society subscribe to a fundamentalist religion focused on keeping all living things in their “pure” form, denouncing genetic mutations. 

Typically, I shy away from first person books but since my friend Carlos gave this to me for Christmas, I decided to give it ago. Five pages in, I realize the main character is a child and I’m dealing with his thoughts in first person and I almost noped right out of there. However, I stuck with it and was surprised with how well first person worked for this book, especially once the twist is revealed. The ending was cool, and one of those scenes that flows so well you can imagine it in your head.

Fatherland - Robert Harris

Fatherland - Robert Harris

“A riveting, alternative history with an über amount of German”

Set in a universe where Nazi Germany won World War II, the story's lead protagonist is an officer in Kripo, the criminal police, investigating the murder of a Nazi government official who was one of the participants at the Wannsee Conference. In so doing, he discovers a plot to eliminate all attendees of the conference in order to help Germany establish better political relations with the United States.

I almost stopped after a few chapters because there was so much German I questioned whether the book was in English or not. The titles of all the offers in the book were so long that it was difficult to keep track of who was speaking or who characters were referring to. Once I got over that, this was a really interesting concept that played out nicely. I’m looking forward to reading more Robert Harris because the structure and flow of “Fatherland” was easy and fun to read.

The Trial - Franz Kafka

The Trial - Franz Kafka

“You think the DMV is bad? Bureaucracy at its finest”

The novel tells the story of Josef K., a man arrested and prosecuted by a remote, inaccessible authority, with the nature of his crime revealed neither to him nor to the reader.

I needed a break from Kafka after reading this. I had planned to read a bunch of his stuff, one after another, but decided that would be a bit much. “The Trial” reminded me a lot of how things get done in China. “Go here, then do this, get this signature, talk to this person, ah but you needed this form, sorry you need 4 copies of this and not 3, we’re not open now…” Just an endless runaround that ultimately ends with the main character calling himself a dog. Weird ending, but somewhat fitting.

The Elementary Particles - Michel Houellebecq

The Elementary Particles - Michel Houellebecq

“A unique blend of life, love, and destroying human reproduction”

This novel tells the story of two half-brothers, Michel and Bruno, and their mental struggles against their situations in modern society in France.

This book had possibly one of the craziest endings I’ve ever read. The book centers on two French brothers and their relationships with women over the years. So I’m reading this book thinking “this is some sappy, sad book about these two guys that frankly I don’t care about” and then the last few pages completely changes everything. If you start this and don’t like it, I highly recommend sticking it out until the end. Well done, Houellebecq, well done.

1984 - George Orwell


“Living in China doesn’t seem so bad after reading this”

What can be said about 1984 that hasn’t already been said since this book first came out? It was sad, intriguing, insightful, and unpredictable. I think so many people like this book because at some point or another, we can relate to either the plot, the theme, or the symbolism that Orwell manages to weave throughout 1984.