Summary and book reviews of House of Meetings by Martin Amis

House of Meetings

By Martin Amis

House of Meetings
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  • Hardcover: Jan 2007,
    256 pages.
    Paperback: Jan 2008,
    256 pages.

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Book Summary

An extraordinary novel that ratifies Martin Amis’s standing as “a force unto himself,” as The Washington Post has attested: “There is, quite simply, no one else like him.”

House of Meetings is a love story, gothic in timbre and triangular in shape. In 1946, two brothers and a Jewish girl fall into alignment in pogrom-poised Moscow. The fraternal conflict then marinates in Norlag, a slave-labor camp above the Arctic Circle, where a tryst in the coveted House of Meetings will haunt all three lovers long after the brothers are released. And for the narrator, the sole survivor, the reverberations continue into the new century.

Harrowing, endlessly surprising, epic in breadth yet intensely intimate, House of Meetings reveals once again that “Amis is a stone-solid genius . . . a dazzling star of wit and insight” (The Wall Street Journal).

1.
The Yenisei, September 1, 2004

My little brother came to camp in 1948 (I was already there), at the height of the war between the brutes and the bitches . . .

Now that wouldn't be a bad opening sentence for the narrative proper, and I am impatient to write it. But not yet. "Not yet, not yet, my precious!" This is what the poet Auden used to say to the lyrics, the sprawling epistles, that seemed to be lobbying him for premature birth. It is too early, now, for the war between the brutes and the bitches. There will be war in these pages, inevitably: I fought in fifteen battles, and, in the seventh, I was almost castrated by a secondary missile (a three-pound iron bolt), which lodged itself in my inner thigh. When you get a wound as bad as that, for the first hour you don't know whether you're a man or a woman (or whether you're old or young, or who your father was or what your name is). Even so, an inch or two further up, as they say, and there would have been no story to tell--...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

Despite the book jacket's promise of a love story, it becomes clear early on that this is not going to be a love story in any traditional sense; even the narrator qualifies his statement by saying that it's a story of Russian love, indicating that we shouldn't expect anything remotely soppy and loving within these pages. In essence The House of Meetings is an extension, in novel form, of Amis's 2002 nonfiction work Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million, a reference to Stalin and the estimated 20 million who died under the Bolshevik regime between 1917 and 1933.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (1160 words).

Media Reviews
The Observer - Toby Lichtig

Despite the caricatures and the indulgence of ventriloquism, Amis has produced a memorable novel and a memorable protagonist.

Scotland on Sunday - Peter Burnett

What House Of Meetings may prove is that there is another Amis style. If Yellow Dog was more than the self-respecting reader should endure, then here is a more generous novel that still travels in macabre directions, but does so with a conscience. It doesn't herald a new development in Amis's work, but does manage to make his talent for shock count by locating it in an already brutish environment.

The Times (London) - Douglas Kennedy

As a novelist, Amis has never been emotionally user-friendly, and in House of Meetings there is a chilly distance created between the narrator and the horror show he is describing. As such, it’s a bit like being guided through a series of museum exhibitions depicting a vortex of hell. Though fascinating, they lack visceral punch. This reservation aside, the novel has a cumulative power and resonates with many reflections about the course of individual destiny in a profoundly cruel universe.

Publishers Weekly

Disappointing...Amis's trademark riffs are all too muffled in his obvious research.

Kirkus Reviews

A novel that doesn't read like any other, ranking as this renowned British author's best. The most compelling fiction from Amis in more than a decade.

The Boston Globe - Saul Austerlitz

Amis has never lost his remarkable gift for description, or his crisp command of dialogue, but the enormity of the camps overwhelms even him.

The Washington Post - Thomas Mallon

House of Meetings, his new novel about life during and after the gulag, is a slender book, on the same scale as the nonfictional Koba, and quite imperfect as a novel. But it is vivid and even scarifying, more than some mere noble acknowledgment of mass suffering, a suffering that Western intellectuals so often excused.

The Times (London) - Robert MacFarlane

House of Meetings is unmistakably Amis’s best novel since London Fields (1989). He has finally abandoned his manic verbal excesses, which reached their pitch of rabidity in Yellow Dog (2003). He has written a slender, moving novel, streaked with dark comedy

The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani

After his embarrassing 2003 novel, Yellow Dog — a book that read like a parody of a Martin Amis novel, featuring gratuitous wordplay and a willfully perverse fascination with the seamy side of modern life — the author has produced what is arguably his most powerful book yet.

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Beyond the Book

A Short History of the Gulag

The Soviet system of forced labor camps known as the Gulag spanned nearly four decades of Soviet history and affected millions of individuals. GULAG is an acronym of Glavnoe Upravlenie Lagereian which, depending on the source, translates as "The Main Directorate for Corrective Labor Camps" or "Main Camp Administration". The earliest camps were established in 1919, by 1939 about 1.6 million were incarcerated. Over time, the word "Gulag" has come to signify not only the administration of the concentration camps but also the system of Soviet slave labor itself, in all its forms including labor camps, punishment camps, criminal and political camps, women's camps, children's camps and transit camps....

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