John Self beat you to it: The Zone of Interest

It’s always a borderline depressing experience reading one of John Self’s reviews.

His review of Martin Amis’ latest, The Zone of Interest is, as per usual, lovely. His reading is forensic, his analysis well balanced and insightful. To paraphrase/misappropriate what Zadie Smith said of David Foster Wallace – damn him.

I’m usually left with a sinking feeling; that no matter how hard I try and think about the stuff I read, i’m just playing with the words. Not playing in any constructive way either. More in the way a child plays with their food; clumsily and messily, more as a distraction than building toward something useful. Self manages to get what I’m thinking onto the page. In tact. Light years away from the garbage I’m left with.

After struggling to get going this year, The Zone of Interest has been one of the only books to hold my attention. I’ve had numerous false starts; books now sitting abandoned on the bedside table. The book that inspired that interview on Channel 4 news for instance. Too self indulgent and deliberately meta to be truly enjoyable, I ditched it within 50 pages,despite the numerous belly laughs it yielded in that short time. Also Howard Jacobson’s J – again, fifty pages proving enough to remind me that perhaps some books are just not for reading.

The point of this blog has, when I can be bothered, been to talk through the stuff I have read. In not reading much, I’ve not written as a result.

The Zone of Interest was to offer one such opportunity. But, as I sit thinking about what to write having completed Amis’ latest, I can’t help but feel like you should just head over to John Self’s site and read his review. I cannot add anything to the body of criticism. Like something from the very brilliant Nightcrawler – you’re too late kid, it’s over.

I will say this though: it struck me as a brave book. The subject matter offers none of the normal opportunities for comedy you’d find in one of his earlier book, yet humour is still there. As farce. Middle management farce, almost Gervais-ian in nature. Also present is that most classic of Amis’ literary devices – the slow zoom. Amis likes to start at the sub-atomic, slowly withdrawing, detail becoming more apparent to the reader as he renders the world we’re in ever more vividly. Again, this observation offers nothing that Self’s review does not, but – in the circumstances of this novel I found it to be a tremendously disconcerting and almost visceral device. Far more so than in earlier works such as Lionel Asbo where the lyrical refrain that links the chapters concludes at the stories end. The realisation of what you were reading, where it was set and the details of what we were being told slowly coming into focus (even when primed by other reviews), was a technique which left me, on occasion, feeling physically sick.

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One Response to John Self beat you to it: The Zone of Interest

  1. Matthew ( says:

    Ah, another after my own heart in feeling both pleasure and deflation at reading a John Self review and knowing that your own is to follow. Still, no one’s got a monopoly on opinion so it certainly doesn’t hurt to add your tuppence, I reckon. I agree with your point about the humour in The Zone of Interest – quite different from pretty much anything I’ve read in Amis before and this quite disarming / disorienting.

    My review: The Zone of Interest by Martin Amis

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