BookBrowse Reviews House of Meetings by Martin Amis

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

House of Meetings

by Martin Amis

House of Meetings by Martin Amis X
House of Meetings by Martin Amis
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jan 2007, 256 pages
    Jan 2008, 256 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team

Buy This Book

About this Book



a love triangle of gothic timbre set in a post-WWII Russian gulag. Novel

House of Meetings is a tale of envy, conscience and ethics set against the harsh backdrop of the gulag period, which has rarely been novelized by English-speaking writers. It is narrated by a hard-nosed old man, a survivor of the Gulag, in the form of an extended letter to his step-daughter as he takes a rather grim cruise north to the labor camp where he spent the longest ten years of his life, enduring extreme cold, starvation and gang wars. The time period of the narration is defined exactly as it is written during the 2004 Beslan school hostage crisis, which Amis uses to illustrate that the violence and conflict of Russia's past is still effecting it today.

The narrator is one of life's survivors, he went away when he was 26 and was closing on 40 when he was released, but he has a knack for finding his feet and becomes a TV repairman, from which he segues into cold-war electronics, before defecting to the West where he becomes rich on the back of one patent.

The narrator does not particularly want to be liked but he does want to be understood, or more accurately he wants to understand himself (even though what he uncovers is not going to be to his liking). He tells his story as he sees it - from the final months of World War II where, like many other Russian soldiers, he raped his way across East Germany, through his time in the gulag and, in brief, the rest of his life. The story centers on the unequal love triangle of him, his idealistic pacifist brother Lev and a Jewish woman named Zoya. Both men are in love with Zoya (a somewhat typical Amis female fantasy figure) who they refer to as "The Americas" because she is shaped like the continents (Brazilian backside, Californian breasts, "the giddy disjunction between north and south, and then the waist as thin as Panama"), in short she is endowed with an "outrageous allocation of physical gifts" and knows exactly what to do with them.

Both brothers get caught in the Stalinist purges following World War II and are sent to a Siberian gulag. The narrator was arrested first and Lev follows soon after, ironically having been turned into the authorities by someone who overhears him in conversation with his sister praising "The Americas"; just before he is arrested he and Zoya marry. Although from the reader's point of view, Lev is the more likeable of the brothers, it is clear that Lev would have no chance of surviving the camps without his brother to defend him from the violence inflicted by the strong, both prisoners and guards, on the weak.

As the political climate begins to change things improve marginally in the camps and conjugal visits can be arranged between prisoners and those spouses prepared to make the very long trek to Siberia for a night in the cabin known as "The House of Meetings". Zoya is one such spouse. However, after his night with her, Lev emerges from the House of Meetings a broken man; our narrator, still deeply jealous of his relationship with Zoya, happily assumes he was unable to perform but Lev assures him that that was not the case and promises to reveal what happened at a later date.

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.

Many reviewers feel that this is Amis's best work since London Fields, but a few feel that it is neither fish nor fowl - too novelized to be history but too strident to be considered a good novel. One reviewer asks why it is necessary to read a novel about the period when we already have first hand accounts such as Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago. The answer to this seems very simple. Amis's 200 page novel and Solzhenitsyn's substantial work of non-fiction written 50 year ago may share a similar objective but meet the needs of two different audiences; after all, how many of us can honestly say hand on heart that we have read The Gulag Archipelago cover to cover (512 pages in the abridged version but closer to 1,800 pages unabridged)?

Martin Amis, son of writer Kingsley Amis (Lucky Jim etc), was born Martin Louis Amis in Cardiff on August 25, 1949. He is the middle of three children (an older brother Philip and younger sister, Sally, who died in 2000). His parents, Hilary (Hilly) and Kingsley, divorced when he was twelve.

He was educated in schools in Wales, England, Spain and the USA (while his father lectured at Princeton), and graduated from Exeter College, Oxford, with First Class Honours in English. His first novel, The Rachel Papers, was published in 1973 while he was working as an editorial assistant at the Times Literary Supplement. It won a Somerset Maugham Award in 1974.

His work has been heavily influenced by American fiction, especially by Philip Roth, John Updike and Saul Bellow, and also by Russian writers such as Vladimir Nabokov. He is considered to be one of the most influential and innovative voices in contemporary British fiction, and is sometimes grouped with other British-based writers who emerged in the 1980s such as Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan and Julian Barnes.

He is a regular contributor to many newspapers, magazines and journals, including the Sunday Times, The Observer, the Times Literary Supplement and the New York Times.

In 1984 he married Antonia Phillips, with whom he has two sons, Louis (1985) and Jacob (1986). Their marriage broke down in 1993 and in 1996 he married Isabel Fonseca, with whom he has two daughters, Fernanda (1997) and Clio (1999). He has another daughter who he met for the first time in 1996, Delilah Seale (born ~1975), from an affair with Lamorna Heath.

He lives in London and Uruguay, with his wife and daughters.

Useful Link: For all you could ever want to know about Martin Amis visit

This review was originally published in February 2007, and has been updated for the January 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Overstory
    The Overstory
    by Richard Powers
    Many glowing adjectives can be used to describe a novel by Richard Powers: brilliant, moving, ...
  • Book Jacket: American Histories
    American Histories
    by John E. Wideman
    In American Histories, a collection of 21 short stories, John Edgar Wideman draws America's present ...
  • Book Jacket: I Found My Tribe
    I Found My Tribe
    by Ruth Fitzmaurice
    Ruth O'Neill was only 28 when she married film director Simon Fitzmaurice in 2004. Changing her...
  • Book Jacket: The Art of the Wasted Day
    The Art of the Wasted Day
    by Patricia Hampl
    Patricia Hampl wants you to know that daydreaming is not a waste of a day. Nor is spending time ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Music of the Ghosts by Vaddey Ratner

A love story for things lost and restored, a lyrical hymn to the power of forgiveness.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Girl Who Smiled Beads
    by Clemantine Wamariya & Elizabeth Weil

    A riveting story of survival, and the power of stories to save us.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Leavers

The Leavers by Lisa Ko

One of the most anticipated books of 2017--now in paperback!


Word Play

Solve this clue:

T E H N Clothes

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.