The Zone of Interest begins with, “I was no stranger to the flash of lightning;…” – and, with that, the electric core of Revival does not seem so far away; this is going to be an easy transition, I think to myself.
Books by Martin Amis are, I’m told, generally considered literary fiction – what my Stylistics lecturer back at university would likely refer to as a “beardy” genre, whilst stroking an imaginary beard pensively looking out of the window. Although I am an unseasoned, inexperienced reader (and, while we are on the subject, a total grump, too), I decided not to be put off by all the assumptions and opinions that come carted behind a label like literary fiction and simply dive straight in.
Amis doesn’t waste much time describing locations. It’s an approach to writing I’ve always, in theory, loved, because it places trust in the reader, it allows them to form their own worlds free of laborious descriptions of the grass and the colour of the moss and the types of flowers… or how the damn stock market works (Sebastian Faulks, A Week In December). However, I invariably give up trying to utilise my imagination to this extent; I find it exhausting to the point at which I allow a world of disconnected walls for leaning against, roads running through woods that have no edge and only one type of tree, towns that float unmarked on maps with ever-changing streets and houses. That the characters can interact with all of these objects and places without slipping through a tear in the space-time continuum of the fictional world is simply astounding. But that’s okay, it doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of the novel – granted, it does feel a little like a hallucinogen taking hold of my mind while I read, but as long as I can remember the basics, that the main character has, for example, blond hair and blues eyes, then I’m perfectly fine…or is it brown?
What follows are a handful of some of my favourite lines from the first one-hundred pages.
- Thomsen is loaned a cat to sort out the mouse problem in his house…
It wasn’t long before I learned respect for this skilful and unobtrusive predator. Maksik had a tuxedoed appearance – charcoal suit, perfectly triangular white dickey, white spats. When he dipped low and stretched his front legs, his paws fanned out prettily, like daisies. And every time Agnes scooped him up and took him away with her, Max – having weekended with me – left behind him an established silence.
- Thomsen discusses with Hannah Doll, the Kommandant’s wife, the faith of the Doll’s housekeeper, Humilia.
“And it’s all so simple.” She bent and poured, and we took our seats, Hannah on the quilted sofa, I on a rustic wooden chair. “All she’s got to do is sign a document, and that’s the end of it. She’s free.”
“Mm. Just abjure, as they say.”
“Yes but you know…Humilia couldn’t be more devoted to my two girls. And she’s got a child of her own. A boy of twelve. Who’s in state care. And all she’s got to do is sign a form and she can go and get him. And she doesn’t. She won’t.”
“It’s curious, isn’t it. I’m told they’re meant to like suffering.” And I remembered Boris’s description of a Witness on the flogging post; but I would not be regaling Hannah with it – the way the Witness pleaded for more. “It gratifies their faith.”
“They love it.”
[As a note, the faith is, I assume, the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Having grown up in this religion – I left many years ago now – I hesitate to fully endorse the idea that they love suffering, and subsequently that one would plead for more. Suffering is, as much as I remember, in their eyes, confirmation of their belief that they are the chosen ones of their god – so gratifying, perhaps, but not part of some masochistic ritual. I reserve the right to be totally wrong on this matter, by the way.]
- Whilst Thomsen is a grey mix of likeable and detestable, Kommandant Paul Doll rarely strays far from the reader’s unending and total hatred.
Ach, there’s nothing wrong with Hannah that the good old 15 centimetres won’t cure. When, after a final glass or 2 of Martell, I wend my way to the bedroom, she should be suitably prompt in the performance of her spousal duty. If I do encounter any nonsense, I will simply invoke that magic name: Dieter Kruger!
I see I’d have to brood about this. I’ll sleep in the dressing room, as usual, and tackle Hannah in the morning, 1 of those 1s where you slip beside them whilst they’re all warm and somnolent, and ease up against them and into them. I won’t stand for any hogwash. And then we’ll both be in excellent spirits for our little gathering here at the villa!
For I am a normal man with normal needs. I am completely normal.
- Szmul, a Sonder, describes a shared trait of his fellow workers.
At dawn we discuss the extraterritorial nature of the Lager, and everything is back to normal in the bunkroom, we talk, we use each other’s names, we gesticulate, we raise and lower our voices; and I like to think that there is companionship. But something is missing and is always missing; something intrinsic to human interaction has absented itself.
The eyes. When you start out in the detail, you think, ‘It’s me, it’s just me. I keep my head dropped or averted because I don’t want anyone to see my eyes.’ Then after a time you realise that all the Sonders do it: they try to hide their eyes. And who would have guessed how foundationally necessary it is, in human dealings, to see the eyes? But the eyes are the windows to the soul, and when the soul is gone, the eyes too are untenanted.