Wednesday, 7 November 2012



There were conjugal visits in the slave camps of the USSR. Valiant women would travel continental distances, over weeks and months, in the hope of spending a night, with their particular enemy of the people, in the House of Meetings. The consequences of these liaisons were almost invariably tragic. House of Meetings is about one such liaison. It is a triangular romance: two brothers fall in love with the same girl, a nineteen-year-old Jewess, in Moscow, which is poised for pogrom in the gap between the war and the death of Stalin. Both brothers are arrested, and their rivalry slowly complicates itself over a decade in the slave camp above the Arctic Circle.

To be brutally honest here I wasn’t expecting a whole barrel of laughs from Amis. In that respect he didn’t disappoint.  What I was expecting though after reading various comments on the book..........

'Amis draws on his considerable talent, intelligence, compassion and anger in this outstanding short novel' -- Irish Times

`Amis engages compellingly and eloquently with the "Russian Soul"'
-- The Sunday Telegraph

`Amis writes with enough force to entertain even while describing depravity'
-- Telegraph

`Amis' mini Russian epic... is audacious, shocking and the best thing he's done in years' -- Evening Standard

`Martin Amis is always essential reading' -- The Times

`Some of the best, most highly charged prose of Amis's career' -- Guardian

`This is the most enjoyable Amis novel for some time' -- Sunday Herald

...... was a book that interested me, both in respect of his characters and their experiences in the Soviet Gulag.  This didn’t happen in either instance.

I couldn’t have cared less - in fact after about 50 pages into this short novel I was fervently wishing that the brothers and anyone they crossed paths with had been exterminated on page 1 or  which point the book could have hopefully ended.

Had it been twice the length, I would have been severely tempted to give up on it, something I’m loathe to do for several reasons.

A)    It feels like the author has beaten me.

B)    The book might just get better, if I read a few pages more, it will turn a corner surely.

C)    A quest for understanding – a bit like the emperor’s clothes if all these other people see gold why am I viewing coal dust? What aren’t I getting?

Previously I have read Amis’s non-fiction book, The Second Plane, which was a collection of articles and essays he wrote about post-9/11. This was readable and enjoyable and interesting – everything that House Of Meetings wasn’t.

Maybe I lack understanding, intellect or get what he was driving at in the book. If so, it’s not something I’ll lose any sleep over. There are hundreds of other books on my TBR Mountain that I will enjoy much more.

What does concern me slightly, and I have no-one else to blame but myself, is the 10 or so other Amis books on the pile to be read......Pregnant Widow, Dead Babies, Yellow Dog, Money etc etc............they can't all be as turgid can they?

In summary, in case I have sat on the fence absolute stinker of a book.

Quite the worst thing I’ve read since Kerouac’s Lonesome Traveller earlier this year.

1 from 5    

I paid a pound for this at a charity shop, which on reflection was about 90p too much.


  1. Love your honesty, Col. Perhaps you have to reside in the lofty tower beside Amis to "get it." Perhaps the reviewers all live there with him. In any event, in the Criminal Library he missed the mark.

  2. Elaine, Thanks for stopping by. Got to say in places it was like swimming through treacle! Hopefully the next time I visit the "tower" it'll be a better experience!