Big-Time Shakespeare and the Joker in the Pack: The Intrusive Author in Martin Amis's Money

By Duggan, Robert | Journal of Narrative Theory, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

Big-Time Shakespeare and the Joker in the Pack: The Intrusive Author in Martin Amis's Money


Duggan, Robert, Journal of Narrative Theory


Martin Amis's 1984 novel Money is part of that select albeit growing genre, the novel of authorial intrusion. Works including John Fowles's The French Lieutenant's Woman (1969), Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions (1973), and Alasdair Gray's Lanark (1981) have helped to create the postmodern set piece where a novel's author takes to the stage of the narrative and plays a role in the events described. John Self, Money's repellent and long-suffering protagonist, employs "Martin Amis" as a scriptwriter for his new film, but it is Self who is being "written" and whose status and wealth are being taken from him. It is over a game of chess against the scriptwriter near the close of the novel that Self dimly realizes that it has been "Amis" who has set him up and who all along has been literally the author of his destruction. This essay offers a new examination of the complex relationship between the patterns of Shakespearean allusion in the novel and the intrusion of the author that is so characteristic of postmodern fiction. Money's appropriation of Shakespeare's Othello and crucially of scholarly criticism on the play illuminates an issue of central importance in Amis's novel and postmodern fiction more generally: lack of character motivation. This essay's sustained exploration of Money's appropriation of the Bard, his oeuvre, and Shakespearean criticism reveals the extent to which Amis engages with the two apparently postmodern concerns - lack of motivation and authorial intrusion - through a frame of reference and set of themaücs drawn from Shakespeare and his critics. As Christy Desmet has described, appropriations involving the figure "Shakespeare" can have multiple valences:

"Shakespeare" is circulated through different ages and social strata, in turn accruing and conferring symbolic value on cultural projects from both highbrow and lowbrow culture - and sometimes both together. (5)

Money can be read as reflecting the "both together" category, satirizing lowbrow efforts to use Shakespeare to sell cheap goods while simultaneously employing Shakespeare's Othello and scholarship on the play in complex ways to situate itself in relation to a literary and critical tradition.

One reaction to Amis's materialization within the narrative has been to read the whole conceit as a rather transparent attempt by the author to distance himself from his vulgar, misogynistic and immoral central character. Six years after the publication of Money, Adam Mars-Jones neatly expressed this suspicion in Venus Envy (1990), his polemical critique of the works of Amis and Ian McEwan: "But already in Amis's Money, there was the extraordinary move of including a character called Martin Amis, for fear that the reader might identify the author with his monstrous creation John Self (19). In the same year that Mars-Jones's pamphlet was published Laura Doan appeared to echo this reductive reading when she claimed that "Amis takes exceptional care to ensure that the narratorprotagonist, so disgusting in his values and lifestyle, cannot be mistaken for the writer by literally putting himself in the text" (72). In response to a similar suggestion, Amis mentions the possibility of such a move, but rejects it in the context of his oeuvre as a whole:

I was wondering whether I put "me" in there because I was so terrified of people thinking I was John Self. But actually I've been hanging around the wings of my novels, so awkwardly sometimes, like the guest at the banquet, that I thought I might jolly well be there at last. Also, every character in this book dupes the narrator, and yet I am the one who has actually done it all to him. (qtd. in Haffenden 11)

As this essay will show, we should be extremely wary of reductive readings distancing the writer and protagonist, not least because of Amis's frequent depiction in the media subsequently as a writer over-endowed with amour-propre. In fact the Haffenden interview reveals that Amis had planned to include himself as a character in a novella that was later abandoned. …

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