London Fields

Unreliable narrators

One of the central themes of the novel is the link between reading and information-gathering, and the (un)reliability of written information, of narrators and narrative. Frederick Holmes writes that the novel dramatises a contest for authorship. All the main characters are authors of one kind or another, supplying Sam with written material, competing with each other to shape the narrative: Nicola's diaries, Guy's short stories and Keith's own darting diary together with his cheat's brochure of goods and services.[4] In the shadows of the novel is the mysterious Mark Asprey, whose pen-name, or one of them, is also Marius Appleby, initials MA (the same as Martin Amis). As Mark Asprey, he writes what appear to be highly popular fiction, translated into innumerable languages. As Marius Appleby, he writes what appears to be a true-life memoir of his seduction of a large-bosomed lady on an exotic foreign exploration. But (as we learn at every turn) the written word deceives us: Asprey prints his own translations to look impressive and Appleby's memoir is exaggerated to the point of being untrue. At the end of the novel, it appears that Asprey has appropriated Sam's narrative for his own. Asprey is not famous for writing: he is famous for being famous – for publicity. One of the protagonists in Appleby's "memoir" complains of the inaccuracies in the text in a magazine article – another gossip column, a piece of popular media, whose own accuracy we cannot trust.

Mass media has corrupted the ability to read and led to disorientation, heavy reliance is placed on gossip and tabloids, neither of which can pass any test of accuracy. When Kath, Keith's wife, wants to read "the proper papers", she has to go to the library: her husband's tabloids don't make any mention of world affairs, it is impossible to tell what is happening from them. Keith's obsession with television, and with the fast-forwarded, freeze-frame version of television that he screens nightly, and with his tabloid newspaper "The Daily Lark", is so great that he becomes confused with reality. When he stars in the darts "docu-drama" – itself implying a dangerous mixture, or confusion, of reality and TV-fiction, he is unable to cope with the concept and it is Nicola who must "translate him" for TV.

London Fields and literary geography

London Fields is a park in Hackney, east London, but the novel is set in west London, like most of Amis's work. The park in which the narrator, Sam, walks with various characters – Nicola Six, Guy Clinch and Keith Talent – is Hyde Park in central London. Sam reminisces that he played in "London Fields" as a boy, and wants to return there before his death. It is not clear whether the "London Fields" he refers to is the real-life East London park, or whether it has another meaning. The title suggests a paradox: a rural or pastoral place within a modern urban setting. Sam's narrative refers again to this inherent paradox, as he remarks that in London "there are no fields", only fields of attraction and repulsion, only force fields. The title indicates to the reader the ambiguities inherent in Amis's creation of an imagined London: there is a conflict between the descriptions of London locations within the novel and their location in reality. The topography of the imagined city cannot fit exactly onto the topography of the real city. Just as Sam realises that "this is London and there are no fields", and just as he is unable to return to the "London Fields" of his childhood, it is similarly impossible for us to return to the stage of London as a field. London Fields exists simultaneously as a real place in the real London, and as an imagined and dreamed-of place "present all along" on every page of the novel, and the scene of a murder.

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