This witty novel tells the story of John Self, a first-time movie director. Having made a name for himself directing TV commercials, Self is given the opportunity to direct a full length movie thanks to the purse-pulling powers of his New York contact, Fielding Goodney. The movie, Good Money or Bad Money (it changes through the novel) is to feature a cast of egotistic, emotionally unstable and unreasonably demanding actors, and the novel includes several very funny encounters and conversations with these, presumably, b-list celebs. As Self signs several documents throughout the novel without looking at them, the final twist in the plot is not entirely a surprise as Self is abruptly wrenched from his hedonistic lifestyle of money, sex, alcohol, fast food and Atlantic-hopping.
The plot is good, but the intertextuality of this novel is striking, and makes me want to read it again in an attempt to pick up on several references that I undoubtedly missed. Most overt are the Orwellian references. Not only does he read Animal Farm on recommendation of his friend, Martina, but the references to 1984 are rife. The novel itself was conveniently published in 1984. Self repeatedly stays in room 101 of his favourite hotel; his name itself, like Winston Smith, is an “everyman” name; he spends the duration of the novel overseeing rewrites of the script, just as Smith spends his days re-writing history. Likewise, characters sharing names with literary figures might also more than just a coincidence: Twain, Fielding. The London pub he frequents is called The Shakespeare. The novel is clearly making statements about literature and writing itself … although what? I’d need to read it again to make any kind of insightful comment on that.
Amis cleverly places his own self in the novel as the writer Martin Amis that occasionally bumps into Self and ultimately re-writes the movie script for him. Poised as a counterpart to Self’s over-indulgence and love of money, Amis cleverly brings the two of them together in a moment where they both share a tear at the televised wedding of Princess Diana and Prince Charles. This passage is perhaps reminiscent of the closing passage of Animal Farm where pigs and man become indistinguishable, and leaves the reader with a possible hint that Self and Amis are not the polar opposites that they initially seem.
This is a clever novel, depicting a consumer culture of New York and London in the 1980s, but, like 1984, with many passages and themes that still ring true today.