The Rachel Papers by Martin Amis (1973)
This was the fourth novel that I read by Amis (I’ve since read Dead Babies) and the second that I have reviewed. It’s a very quick and satisfying read. The Rachel Papers also, more than any other Amis novel, makes me want to visit London.
Charles Highway is by far the most likable protagonist of the Amis works that I have read. His witty repartee and unmistakably teenaged sexual neuroticism are all too familiar and terribly fun. That being said, Charles is not a likeable character, particularly at the novel’s end. My friend humorously referred to Charles as a “pretentious little toad.” This is a pretentious little Toad:
(He’s smoking a clove cigarette and listening to a playlist comprised solely of Animal Collective side projects)
The majority of Amis’ main characters, though very entertaining and well-written, are awful, deplorable bastards (Keith Talent of London Fields or John Self of Money). Charles is more human and less a caricature.
I think Amis has an interesting take on the fickle-minded, hormonal nature of the teenaged mind. Maybe the character of Charles is not supposed to be a liked, but rather a character that the reader sees elements of himself/herself in, recognizing the fact for a moment, and then is happy to realize that they’ve outgrown the emotionally irresponsible age of adolescence (well, hopefully). And maybe the character of Rachel is meant for the reader to recall the first significant other that he/she had any feelings for and what you loved about them when you first met them…and then recall the breakup.
In comparison to his other novels, The Rachel Papers is fairly conventional; I don’t mean that in a bad way at all. His other novels tend to add a meta-fictive aspect at some point or another. The more conventional approach may be chalked up to this being his first novel. It’s an impressive first novel. I always love reading authors’ first works, particularly when they are young. Amis was only twenty-four when he wrote this. It makes one inspired and jealous at the same time.
This late bildungsroman documents a period that falls only about half a dozen years back for me. I find myself reliving self-embellished versions of my own collegiate escapades. I was a total douchebag then too come to think of it. I remember organizing my room prior to visits from lady friends just like Charles does. “If I lean Lou Reed’s Transformer against the record player over there and leave the Vonnegut novel upside down on my partially made bed…” Thinking about it makes me want to puke. Thanks, Martin Amis!