#227 Time’s Arrow

Martin Amis has always been slightly confusing to me: I feel like his is a very familiar name – for a while it seemed to crop up in any literature related article I read (although admittedly I don’t think there were tons of them). He is someone whose novels I feel I should have read – and yet an author whose books I really struggle to find (albeit in libraries and charity shops – from where I source almost all of my books). Fair enough if readers are too enamoured with his books and don’t want to give them to charity but that doesn’t explain their absence from the library – even if some of the libraries that have been my local libraries haven’t had the most sophisticated of selections. In my experience so far, Martin Amis (like Will Self) is (in my mind) a household name, yet both are frustratingly inaccessible.
So now this is the second Martin Amis book that I’ve managed to get my hands on (third if you count The Information, which I carted around central Europe with me on holiday last year and failed to open) and I picked it up because my boyfriend was keen to read it before Christmas (but couldn’t find it anywhere – surprise susprise – except the internet, obviously). I thought it sounded interesting too – for once I did read the blurb: it “tells the story, backwards, of the life of [a] Nazi war criminal” – without really thinking through exactly what that means. It is – almost literally – just that, which does take a while to get your head around. At the beginning of the book “Tod T Friendly” (the main character) has just died – which I don’t think I fully comprehended when I read it. Tod is old, he does things slowly, and Amis describing how Tod painfully empties the toilet bowl and cleans toilet paper before replacing it on the roll made me confused and slightly nauseous before I remembered the blurb (I don’t normally bother reading them or pay much attention, since I have to read the book anyway).
Tod is a doctor and it is amusing to watch him removing bandages from wounds giving patients prescriptions or treatments, after which they become ill or look upset; to see his relationships with women in reverse or go to the supermarket and receive money, after which he returns all of his purchases to the shelves. The book’s narrator is not Tod himself but is inside him, watching his backwards actions through Tod’s eyes with a confusion greater than my own: he sees Tod’s reversed actions as the natural course of life, and this is how they are described to us. The narrator’s own bemusement (to him, Tod “gets everything” on the first date: a date which begins with an argument and ends with Tod and his date reminding the waiter what they had for dinner) continues throughout: as Tod’s life goes backwards and backwards, from old age to middle age, across America and to Portugal, then back to Nazi Germany where he is a concentration camp doctor. I thought it was an interesting and clever read although I have to admit I cheated and read any conversations in the book backwards – starting at the end and reading them back to the start (thankfully the words themselves are not backwards) but it did made me feel slightly sick in places, which I suppose isn’t surprising given the subject – although it is oddly how I felt throughout (Will Self’s) Great Apes and How the Dead Live – leaving the two authors even more closely linked in my mind.

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