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3.1 out of 5 stars
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on 4 August 2011
A tale of Stalinism and brotherly love, House of Meetings is a book that, once it hooks you, never lets you go. I have little affection for those reviewers who cannot tell how compelling, original and well written this short novel is. Amis is one of the daring ones, a writer who eschews quaint British tales and dives into a wide range of subjects with aplomb. When he writes about Britain, it is with great vigor and venom - as in Money and London Fields. When he writes about the larger world, he attacks his subject matter with great skill and passion, and not a little humor.

To say that he is one of the best British writers alive is an understatement. Every book brings it's own POV and voice, and a freshness that cannot be underestimated. I have taken away a star only because this is a very good, but not great example of what Amis does best.I admire the American writers he plainly loves - Bellow, Updike and Roth - and the Europeans -like Kundera - who sparkle with originality. So does he.
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Martin Amis must have been feeling miserable when he wrote this book because misery seeps from every page. It is supposed to be a love story but I can't imagine any women liking this book. You have to tease love out of the wretchedness and violence of a Russian camp. By page 20, I was depressed, by page 50, only Amis' reputation as a writer forced me on. Even so, I skipped great chunks until Part 3 where we were back on familiar territory - two brothers, one successful, one not, and their competition over a woman. Written in the form of a letter to his daughter, I felt excluded and could drum up only a small amount of empthy for Lev, the younger wreck of a brother.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 20 December 2006
I found this a very irritating piece of work, as it fails to purvey any sense of the physical or emotional environment of the protagonist. On gulags, one is better served by Solzhenitsyn's "One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich". On sexual jealousy and frustration, well, where do we start? Amis has nothing new or particularly interesting to say, other than the simple sentence: "There were conjugal visits for inmates at the gulags."

Perhaps I had been spoiled for this book by having recently read James Meek's "The People's Act of Love", also about Russia, but far more credible. Amis's people are bits and pieces. Where Meek evokes, shocks and entertains, Amis clunks from one set-piece to another, as though building his novella out of pre-formed scenes.

I picked up this book because it had been compared with Ian McEwan's masterpiece "Atonement". But whereas McEwan's narrative is rich and complex, Amis's runs in one dimension. While neither author has direct knowledge of his subject, McEwan at least steeps himself in his research, whereas Amis's scant detail and failure to maintain an atmosphere render his little story thoroughly unconvincing.

Perhaps my most trenchant criticism of this little book is, in common with rather a lot of contemporary UK or US fiction, it is a short story extruded beyond its natural length. House of Meetings would have been compelling at a quarter of the length, or could have been a diverting episode in a greater work.

Probably best avoided: there are so many more interesting things to read.
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on 18 July 2015
Giving it a 2nd.Go...He has a way of Getting inside his Subject and ...With Brevity, aided by a Splendid sometimes Chilling 'Gallows Humour'...Revealing the Ghastly barely Believable...Cruelty of our Deviant Species...We need more like him...A 'Good' page from Marty Amis is more Instructive more Enlightening...Than a Whole shelf of ...Religious Claptrap...BUT to Update this review...You won't find what you seek here...This is Turgid ,Wandering ,and made Obtuse,by a failure to find the right Expression for the Meaning being Conjured with.
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on 5 January 2010
A story that begins by giving you the grey images you imagine of communist soviet union. The gulag as a background of a story of human degradation doted with spots of a love story. A man's love for his brother, his sister-in-law, but above all for the need to feel and avoid numbness. Vivid images, capturing writing. Beautiful and addictive story...
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 30 June 2008
Sadly, the best thing about this novel is its brevity. And I say that as someone who has enjoyed Amis's novels in the past (eg, Money, Success, London Fields - the latter being my favourite). I expected to be shocked and enlightened by the realities of the gulag and the nature of Soviet communism (which Amis correctly identifies as a form of fascism, post-Lenin), but instead I was mostly bored by Amis's baroque linguistics. Basically, IMNSHO, it's overly-literary and all a bit poncey.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 27 November 2008
Money by Marin Amis was one of the best books of the 1980s, an almost perfect satire of that awful decade. It is therefore almost inevitable that any novel Amis writes will be compared to that tour-de-force, and often unfavourably. House of Meetings, unfortunately does not stand up well in comparison to Money at all. In fact, there were times when reading this when I almost checked the name on the cover was actually Martin Amis, and not some pale impostor. This book seems to lack almost all of those authorial traits, touches, call them what you will, that enables one to feel an authorial presence, lack Amis himself. There are only a few - far too few - examples of his - almost trademark - linguistic dexterity and flights of fluency. Also, probably, for the first time ever with a Martin Amis book, I cannot remember laughing at all, not even smiling, as I read this. In fact, I had no sense of engagement with it at all, and felt very little authorial engagement with it either. In the end, it became a chore just to finish the book.

The novel is the story of a love triangle between the narrator, and his brother Lev and the woman they both love Zoya set in 20th Century Russia. The central point around which the novel revolves is `The House of Meetings' a place set aside for conjugal visits in the Russian slave camp where both brothers at incarcerated, and where Lev and his then wife Zoya meet for such a visit.

Of course, the tragic events of communist Russia, and post-communist Russia, are played out around this story of these three characters. Unfortunately neither the love-triangle story, nor the greater tragedy of Russia itself seems to engage the reader to any great extent, everything seems distant, almost an exercise, as if all the tragedies, crimes, mistakes and so forth of a triangular relationship, and of the history of 20th century Russia are being ticked off on a list by the author.

It is a shame really. The world could do with yet another great Martin Amis novel, but this one isn't it.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 26 October 2006
A novel as thin as a blade. Not a word wasted or redundant.

The efficient allocation of vocabulary is as good as it gets.

When he is not at his best, he is still one of the great living writers.

When he is at his best, he is breathtaking and this is Amis at his best.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Looking at some of the other, highly critical reviews of House of Meetings on this site, I must say I'm surprised. I was very impressed by Amis' considerable grasp of what must have been a relatively difficult subject to research - Soviet slave labour camps of the 30s, 40s and 50s - and was moved by his descriptions of crunching brutality and casual disregard of human worth. His tale of the relationship between the two brothers, and its themes of jealousy, trust, competition and dependency, is very powerful and evokes a strong sense of personal empathy. Overall, this is a great book - a fine read, strong story line, believable characters, and a multi-layered set of subtexts dealing with many of the core feelings of human nature.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 26 December 2006
Yes, a return to some kind of form, although there are quite a few examples of verbosity which may have felt good to him but left me completely cold. But what is the central story about? Post-war Russia and its brutality? Blood being thicker than water? Thwarted love? You cannot hope to make much of all these themes in a novella, and that's where it fails. But I enjoyed reading it and, if you didn't know it was Amis, you'd probably end up pretty impressed. As for the reviewer who compared it to 'The People's Act of Love', let's see what Mr Meek can do for an encore. Amis has been around a long time and, although his recent record is a bit patchy, he has delivered over many years. Read it but don't expect an Amis classic.
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