Hamilton Leithauser is lead singer of The Walkmen. The New York-based band released A Hundred Miles Off and Pussycats in 2006 and has a new album on the way in Spring 2008.
Set in modern London, where all is dark and dirty, and those characters that haven’t abandoned all morals are simply too stupid to fend for themselves, Martin Amis’ London Fields is consistently funny and enjoyable. The Keith character, a low-life, dart-playing criminal, is a real highlight – he spends the majority of the book waxing dart philosophy or loud-mouthing around his home-away-from-home pub The Black Cross about women and booze. From the first page you learn there will be a murder, and the whole setting is so saturated with an apocalyptic vibe that you know that ain’t the worst that’s gonna happen. But Amis maintains humor and lightness through even the darkest moments, which prevents any doomsday preaching from ever getting too heavy. I loved this thing.
I couldn’t put down John Fowles’ The Magus for the first thirty or forty twists and turns. The story follows Nicholas Urfe, a young Englishman who leaves his more complex life (girlfriend, family…) behind in England for what seems a mind-clearing existence as a teacher on a remote Greek island. But once on the island Nicholas meets a reclusive millionaire who in turn introduces him to a bunch of increasingly strange characters and increasingly strange situations. The evolving vibe is tremendous – from the tranquil beginning to the truly bizarre ending – and this is definitely the book’s strength. Eventually the number of twists proves a little too much and you start thinking that maybe martians or Bruce Willis might show up or something. My recommendation would be to read it until you start thinking things are getting a little too weird for you.
After putting that one down, you might want to pick up The French Lieutenant’s Woman, which was by far Fowles’ most widely-acclaimed work. He says at the beginning he wrote it as a modern Dickensian novel, and I guess that’s a pretty good description. It’s a classic English period piece with tons of delightful forbidden love and betrayals, but written with a distinctly 20th-century voice. As in The Magus, Fowles saves some major surprises for the end, but as there were simply less of them here, I thought the overall effect was better, and I would most definitely recommend this one.