Ad-man John Self shuttles on the red-eye between London and the “smiting light and island rain” of New York, trying to make his first movie. But his appetite for booze, porn and fast food (he’s “addicted to the 20th century”) leads to his self-destruction. A 400-page riff with “oodles of dash and heft and twang”, stuffed with unforgettable set pieces, Money is a comic masterpiece underpinned with sadness.
In a nutshell: his best novel; it’s not even close.
The Moronic Inferno and Other Visits to America (1986)
Amis loved America – “more like a world than a country” – and eventually settled there. This collection of interviews and journalism shows him at once wide-eyed with wonder (“What’s he got?” he asks of Steven Spielberg. “How do you do it? Can I have some?”) and aptly sceptical: Kurt Vonnegut is a “playful infantilist”; Ronald Reagan’s “hair can’t be a day over forty-five.”
In a nutshell: capital entertainment on the world’s entertainment capital.
The Information (1995)
There’s a gentleness to the third of Amis’s “London trilogy”, after the scabrous animation of Money and London Fields. Hopeless, hapless writer Richard Tull hates his bestselling best friend Gwyn Barry and determines to “fuck [him] up”. It’s a comedy steeped in the approach of death, but still has time to observe blossoms falling “in festive and hysterical profusion, as if all the trees were getting married”.
In a nutshell: his most underrated novel.
“My life looked good on paper – where, in fact, almost all of it was being lived.” Amis’s memoir introduced us to a kinder, more humane man – “easily moved to tears” – than we expected from the novels. His account of his father Kingsley’s death (after which he was “not the kid any more”, Saul Bellow told him) is exceptional.
In a nutshell: Amis for people who don’t like Amis.
The War Against Cliche: Essays and Reviews 1971-2000 (2001)
Probably the most thumbed volume of essays and reviews on the shelves of Amis-admirers. A new book by Norman Mailer was written “very fast ... for a well-known reason. When, oh when, will all the kids grow up, all the wives remarry?” He’s honest, too, about how boring some classics are: Don Quixote is like “an indefinite visit from your most impossible senior relative”. In many cases, Amis’s reviews have outlived the books they’re about.
In a nutshell: the most re-readable and best value Amis.