London Fields

Plot summary

London Fields is set in London in 1999 against a backdrop of environmental, social and moral degradation, and the looming threat of world instability and nuclear war (referred to as "The Crisis"). The novel opens with Samson explaining how grateful he is to have found this story, already formed, already happening, waiting to be written down.

This is the story of a murder. It hasn't happened yet. But it will. (It had better.) I know the murderer, I know the murderee. I know the time, I know the place. I know the motive (her motive) and I know the means. I know who will be the foil, the fool, the poor foal, also utterly destroyed. I couldn't stop them, I don't think, even if I wanted to. The girl will die. It's what she always wanted. You can't stop people, once they start. You can't stop people, once they start creating.

What a gift. This page is briefly stained by my tears of gratitude. Novelists don't usually have it so good, do they, when something real happens (something unified, dramatic, and pretty saleable), and they just write it down?[3]

The characters have few, if any, redeeming features. Samson Young (Sam), the unreliable narrator of the novel, is an American, a failed non-fiction writer with decades-long writer's block, and is slowly dying of some sort of terminal disease. Recently arrived in London, he immediately meets Keith Talent, a cheat (small-time criminal) and aspiring professional darts player, at Heathrow Airport where Keith is posing as a minicab driver. Keith gives Sam an extortionately priced ride into town. The two converse in Keith's car, and Keith invites Sam to the Black Cross, a pub on the Portobello Road, Keith's main hangout. At the Black Cross, Sam meets Guy Clinch, a rich upper-class banker who is bored with life, with his terrifyingly snobbish American wife, Hope, and his out-of-control toddler, Marmaduke. Shortly after, the two both meet the anti-heroine, Nicola Six, a 34-year old local resident, of uncertain nationality, who has entered the pub after attending a funeral, a hobby of hers.

Later that the same day, Sam sees Nicola dramatically dumping what turn out to be her diaries in a litter bin outside the flat where he is staying (it belongs to Mark Asprey, a wildly successful English writer). The diaries tell Sam that Nicola believes she can somehow see her own future, and, bored with life and fearing the ageing process, is plotting her own murder for midnight on 5 November, her 35th birthday. Sam, who considers that he lacks the imagination and courage to write fiction, realises he can simply document the progress towards the murder to create a plausible, lucrative, story. He assumes that Keith, the bad guy, will be the murderer. Sam enters into a strange relationship with Nicola where he regularly interviews her and is updated on the "plot".

The novel proceeds on the basis that Keith Talent, the known criminal, will kill Nicola Six, with Guy Clinch as the fall guy necessary to provoke him into doing it (and, incidentally, to provide funds to help Talent avoid being beaten up by loan sharks, and to further his darts career so he can appear in the Sparrow Masters darts final the day before the planned murder). But there is an unexpected twist at the finale. Amis hints at a false ending, in one of Samson Young's terrifying dreams, simply to confuse the reader.

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