by Martin Amis ‧ RELEASE DATE: June 1, 1981
A Mystery Story"" indeed--one in which everything is teasingly shrouded in mystery: the what, the when, the why, and (above all) the who. A young, beautiful woman wakes up (in a hospital?) and passively ventures out into London--with total amnesia, a determination to be ""good,"" and utter innocence of human ways: ""No one out there reminded her of anything much."" She takes the name Mary Lamb from overheard doggerel. She acquires bits of life-knowledge from observation and from books (mostly out-of-date). She wanders into a low-life crowd; she allows herself to be adopted by the sluttish, alcoholic Botham family (which leads to unpleasant sex and some violence); then she moves on to the Church-Army Hostel for Young Women, a waitress job, a pity-motivated liaison (her lover suicides when she drops him), and a stint in the platonic hi-rise harem of rich, burnt-out Jamie. But while ""Mary"" moves through this icily pessimistic parable of life--from innocence to fear of ""other people,"" from openheartedness to pathetic love-hunger--a cool, jaded, dangerous-sounding narrator looks in on her from time to time: ""I hope Mary will be all right. . . . She will learn fast, I'm sure. . . . If you ever make a film of her sinister mystery, you'll need lots of progress-music to help underscore her renovation at the Bothams' hands. . . ."" And another, somewhat more realistic character looks in on her too: John Prince, a policeman who believes that ""Mary"" is really Amy Hide: a missing person thought to have been murdered (a very bad girl). So eventually ""Mary"" will switch back to ""Amy,"" moving in with Prince--who'll protect her from ""Mr. Wrong,"" the man who tried to murder her. But is Prince himself the murderer--and/or a projection of Amy's own evil (the Prince of Darkness, as it were)? Or is the whole story a good/evil battle going on in Amy's pathologically divided mind? Or. . . . ? Amis (The Rachel Papers, Dead Babies) seems quite purposely--perversely, even--to have made his mystery capable of any number of interpretations: the carefully orchestrated hints (recurring words, suggestive names) will keep susceptible readers tuned in, even when Mary's much-exploited innocence becomes illogical or shtick-y. And though this weird little book ends up as a disappointment--like one of those long shaggy-dog jokes with no punchline--Amis' page-by-page narration (alternately spooky, grim, and nastily funny) offers substantial, creepy rewards along the way.
Pub Date: June 1, 1981
Page Count: -
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1981
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