I haven't read other Martin Amis novels. I have read analyses about Martin Amis, I have read interviews of Martin Amis and I have read raving reviews of OTHER novels of Martin Amis and I believe everybody who praises his talent. Unfortunately I should have also believed the people who praise his talent and who warned me not to choose The Rachel Papers as an introduction to his work, on the grounds that – surprisingly enough - it sucks.
I didn't and it was a big mistake. I chose The Rachel Papers in the hope that it would turn out to be my High Fidelity of the 70s (without the music), or at least a light version of it, because to actually match High Fidelity is too ambitious even for comparable books that chronologically precede it. I also hoped it would turn out to be an easy and fun read about teenage lust, which would be GREAT. Give me the Footloose and Pretty In Pink v̶i̶d̶e̶o̶t̶a̶p̶e̶s̶ ok it’s dvds, anytime and I’ll watch them, never mind the dozens of times I already have done so. For each of these movies.
/end of synopsis of (laughable in retrospect) expectations.
Well. This was no fun read for sure. It wasn't even an easy read and it's a short one, and suffice to say, I won't dignify that book with the slightest comment on potential proximities to a 70s version of anything even remotely related to the Hornby universe.
So what is The Rachel Papers?
The Rachel Papers is an incredibly B-O-R-I-N-G and badly written coming of age novel about some Charles 20-year old who, similarly to the entire book, is completely humourless. Charles doesn't give a fuck about anything in life except getting laid, preferably with the number one popular Rachel girl, with whom he is obsessed. Which is fine. And completely understandable if you’re not even 20, like Charles.
Unfortunately, at least for a human (can’t vouch for extraterrestrials), Charles also features a remarkably rare combination of all of the following: inferiority complexes, delusional ideas of grandeur, sinister feelings for his father, lack of trustworthiness, self-esteem instability, lack of empathy towards everybody, hallucinational – apparently - ideas that planetary systems where being a complete arsehole is cool are already known to man and a desperate need for attention. He is exactly the kind of person who will try to sell their half-knowledge of the Dostoyevsky wikipedia entry (and maybe of one of those short stories by Pushkin) as expertise on Russian literature. You know how it goes.
Of course, lovely books where the main character is a complete jerk are not only perfectly possible, but also in existence, in abundance. In fact, 1984 and Crime And Punishment have to be my two most favourite books ever (so far anyway), and the protagonists in both books suck. They suck. One of them is also a murderer! So that's clearly not an issue for me.
The issue is that Charles both sucks and has nothing to share with the reader, good or bad. Top this up with a bunch of extra two-dimensional underdeveloped characters – yes; that means Rachel too – and an obnoxiously crude writing style and that's it.
Does this sound tempting to you?
I didn't think so.