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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing
There can be no doubt that The Zone of Interest is a marked return to form for Martin Amis. In fact, the novel has revivified his moribund talent. After the tired and fogeyish satire of Lionel Asbo (2012), it seemed the game was up. Yet Amis has regrouped and once again tackled the Holocaust, the focus of his frighteningly clever Time's Arrow (1991), and he has done the...
Published 4 months ago by s k

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing work from a great writer
I have been a big Martin Amis fan but I think I will make this my last one. He picks a gigantic subject (the psychology of the Nazis who ran the concentration camps, their hangers on and helpers) and then he treats it in a rather obvious way. I know that this book has received many positive reviews - so you should not take my word for this. But I actually found it dull...
Published 1 month ago by Neasa MacErlean


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing work from a great writer, 5 Nov 2014
By 
Neasa MacErlean (UK) - See all my reviews
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I have been a big Martin Amis fan but I think I will make this my last one. He picks a gigantic subject (the psychology of the Nazis who ran the concentration camps, their hangers on and helpers) and then he treats it in a rather obvious way. I know that this book has received many positive reviews - so you should not take my word for this. But I actually found it dull. What he is trying to do is to explain the phenomenon he describes like this: "Under National Socialism you looked in the mirror and saw your soul. You found yourself out." So the commandant begins to go crazy but he was a shabby character from the start. The Jewish collaborator who keeps himself alive by leading new arrivals to the 'showers' is more thoughtful than the brute he might seem. And there is the most Aryan of all the Nazis, by looks, who finds some decency in himself - turning from a seducer into someone who is capable of romantic love. But the treatment does not match the huge subject. I wondered why Martin Amis decided to chose this subject if he could not add something new. Has he found himself out in some way?
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing, 26 Aug 2014
This review is from: The Zone of Interest (Hardcover)
There can be no doubt that The Zone of Interest is a marked return to form for Martin Amis. In fact, the novel has revivified his moribund talent. After the tired and fogeyish satire of Lionel Asbo (2012), it seemed the game was up. Yet Amis has regrouped and once again tackled the Holocaust, the focus of his frighteningly clever Time's Arrow (1991), and he has done the subject justice. That's not to say the novel's perfect, because it isn't, but it's certainly a powerful and provocative performance, and one that readmits Amis to the ranks of our pre-eminent literary novelists.

The novel has three first-person narrators: Angelus 'Golo' Thomsen (a Nazi bureaucrat), Paul Doll (camp Commandant), and Szmul (a Jewish prisoner, whose job it is, as a Sonderkommando, to help dispose of the corpses from the gas chambers). There is a fourth character, Hannah Doll (Paul's wife), who is the centre of a love triangle between Golo and Paul, but she is more a symbol than a presence. So, once again, we have an Amis novel exclusively voiced by men. And it's the voices that are most important, because not a lot happens in this book, and the love story is tenuous at best. Yet the meditations by the various characters on, and their increasing realisation of, the depravities of the Nazi regime frequently unsettle the reader, and so it's these we must pay attention to and not the casual plot.

But as with all of Amis's narrators, they all tend to sound the same after a while, and they all tend to represent the trio of perspectives that forever permeate his novels, regardless of their settings. Paul is a complete buffoon, Golo is a bit of a lad, and Szmul is given to reflecting on the human condition. Yet it's the slips in each narrator's voice that are most disconcerting, because Amis can't help inserting a flashy phrase where it really shouldn't be. For instance, Paul is a slavish dunce and one who speaks in the euphemistic terms of the Third Reich (no one is killed, they are simply dealt with in 'the suitable fashion' (p.67)). All of this is convincingly portrayed, but then Amis has him describe an evening's 'salmony sunset and...tumbling rack of clouds' (p.68), which is completely out of character and shatters the philistinism Amis has spent so long constructing.

Nevertheless, it is Szmul who tries, and fails, to explain the industrial turpitude undertaken at Auschwitz - he is the book's soul. In his 'Acknowledgements and Afterword: 'That Which Happened'', Amis reiterates the 'horror...desolation, and...bloody-minded opacity' (p.310) of Auschwitz, and of just how hard it is for us to assimilate what happened. In short, we can't. But Amis has given it a go, and it's a brave attempt to convey the collective madness that disturbingly prevailed at the time. Some will criticise Amis for the inclusion of humour where humour has no place to be, but it is essential, if only to humanise the protagonists. But each laugh must be seen as a transient antidote to the horror that pervades the novel, for it's this horror, this oppressive and unbelievable horror, which renders the book utterly disturbing.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Amis back on form, 28 Aug 2014
By 
Norman Housley (Leicester United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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S K (26 August) writes exactly what I thought and there is nothing to be gained from repeating the points. This is a remarkable novel, indeed at times brilliant, and it has to be said, on occasion very funny. I did not find that offensive because the humour was dark to put it mildly, and informed by the deeply reflective and serious view of the Holocaust set out in the book's last section.
Above all, the prose is wonderful, engaging the reader and constantly shifting in mood. The author is a master stylist.
This is vintage Amis, one of his best novels.
4.5 ( not 5 because I found the ending slightly disappointing)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Zone of Interest, 19 Sep 2014
By 
S Riaz "S Riaz" (England) - See all my reviews
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This is an excellent, thought provoking novel, which attempts to look at the holocaust from the human perspective of four different characters. Firstly, there is Paul Doll, Commandant of a concentration camp; ruler of who he surveys, but oddly uncomfortable in his own marriage and battling bureaucracy in Berlin over numbers, cost and the various details of committing mass murder for the least cost and most profit. His wife, Hannah Doll, is also an important character. A woman, a wife, a mother and far more aware of what is going on around her than her husband realises. Thirdly, is Angelus `Golo' Thomsen, who falls for Hannah. Golo looks like an SS poster boy - all blonde hair and jutting jaw- plus, much to Doll's disgust, he has a degree of protection through his uncle, Martin Bormann. Lastly, there is Szmul, a Jewish prisoner, who works at the ramp where the prisoners arrive on the trains and who is a witness to all the atrocities that happen around him.

In a way, this reminded me of another novel I read earlier this year - "The Commandant of Lubizec," by Patrick Hines. Both books look at the normalisation of horror and the sheer scale of killing that happened in the holocaust. Humanity was turned on its head, as previously normal people beat, starved and gassed other people to death. We have Doll, an ardent National Socialist, who bans the anti-Semitic newspaper, "Der Sturmer," in favour of scientific evidence to condone his actions, industrialists tiptoeing around bodies as they lay out their factories, a professor of zoology who has to dig Doll's garden, locals who complain they cannot drink the water because of the smell coming from the camp, but do not question too deeply, businessmen who argue that they do not realise what all the fuss about the Jews is for anyway, but go along with it, guards who drink and obviously feel increasingly uncomfortable with what they are doing, but still obey orders... This is murder as a business, where prisoners worth is measured in the work they can do, where finance is built upon bodies and transport schedules constantly roll in unloading their victims.

Martin Amis does an incredible job of showing us the reality of the holocaust, while wrapping the storyline around a moving love story. Much of this novel is incredibly moving - Szmul's reaction when Hannah Doll speaks to him is one of the most touching moments in the book - and yet often it is also extremely funny. I thought this a wonderful novel; Amis made the seemingly impossible -a funny book about the holocaust - possible. He shows how mass murder became normalised and how, and why, normal people became brutal and barbaric. This is an important novel and I am glad I read it. Lastly, I received a copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Evil of Banality, 10 Nov 2014
This review is from: The Zone of Interest (Hardcover)
The subject is horrendous - nothing worse in human history - but for all the painstaking research and moral outrage MA rightly brings to the subject the book fails to provoke, move or convince other than occasionally. I came away feeling as if water had run through my hands rather than seeped into and polluted my imagination, just as the foul smoke from the camp's ovens pollutes the Silesian snow. Characters are mouthpieces for points of view, though the increasing psychosis of commandant Paul Doll is brilliantly reflected in the worsening plight of his children's pets - a smashed tortoise and an ailing pony. An official's cat also turns on its owner after the Gestapo have secretly visited his flat, which makes you wonder what they did to it. The final section continues the focus on quotidian banalities and does not feel like the correct ending to this novel, rather the conclusion of a bittersweet romance set in suburbia. Still, MA had me checking out high-ranking Nazi figures online and some of the entries for them - Klaus Barbie, for example - made my blood run colder than TZOI managed to do. Sometimes trying to capture the banality of evil becomes an evil in itself, diminishing the toxicity of a vile poison that corrupted a nation and so nearly the world.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary., 15 Sep 2014
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This review is from: The Zone of Interest (Hardcover)
Captivating in such a cruel and macabre way. I have never read anything as 'efficient' in delivering the message of man's inhumanity to man. There are no superlatives left really are there!
I see the similarity between Jonathan Swift's capacity (which Amis shares) to alternate between broad satire and the most menacingly subtle commentary on the hate and the dark and the night.
I will not forget it.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking. If you let it., 27 Aug 2014
This review is from: The Zone of Interest (Hardcover)
I am still trying to get a clear view of what I think of this novel. I have given it a five-star rating as it is a 'good' and important read; in light of the subject matter, to describe it as 'enjoyable' (e.g., it is engrossing) feels wrong, inappropriate and clumsy, but the fact I read it in one sitting may help explain...
There are uncomfortable feelings about the approach and some of the characters, but this may be part of the intention. Some of the media reviews have been very negative (perhaps too dismissively), with - it seems - not much space and objectivity between apparent reactions to the book and pre-existing views and opinions about Martin Amis, as a (sometimes controversial and not always likeable) person and author.
I don't doubt the author's motives and sincerity in revisiting the regime and the Holocaust. Do read and think about the 'Acknowledgments and Afterword'. Not least, Amis provides references and sources by which to learn more.
'We' should keep what happened in memory and therefore keep thinking about it. We know what happened, but - just as we should never forget - we may never reach a point (nor should we?) where we can fully explain and understand 'Why?'. Thought provoking - therefore, perhaps, it achieves what Amis seeks?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I’m not sure if we’re permitted to enjoy any subject matter relating to the Holocaust but I ..., 31 Oct 2014
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This was the most enjoyable Martin Amis I’ve read since London Fields. I’m not sure if we’re permitted to enjoy any subject matter relating to the Holocaust but I certainly enjoyed this book. Some reviewers found humour here but I didn’t, not really – other than Dolls pompous bumbling’s, that is. In a book lacking sympathetic characters I thought his chapters (Doll being the least sympathetic) were the most enjoyable.

If I have any criticism it would be the occasional inclusion of dialogue in German and French that had no translation. Some of it did, mind, making me wonder why the rest was put there at all. I sometimes got mixed up with who was narrating too, but that was probably just me not paying attention.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars “You come to the Zone of Interest and it tells you who you are”, 7 Sep 2014
By 
Roman Clodia (London) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Zone of Interest (Hardcover)
This isn’t, of course, the first time that Amis has grappled with the indecipherable nature of the Holocaust but this is, I think, a better novel than Time’s Arrow. It’s also a very Amis approach to that topic, shot through with the darkest, blackest humour as Kommandant Doll struggles with the ‘nightmare’ job of genocide that the Nazi bureaucrats back in Berlin just won’t understand. But it is also heightened by the desperate and tender narrative of Szmul, the leader of the Sonderkommando, the Jewish prisoners who worked for the Nazis at the camps, and his own struggles to understand whether what he is doing is bearing witness or simply staying alive.

The three main narrative voices are linked through this idea of understanding who – and what – we are, and various characters speak these sentiments, seeing Nazi Germany, or the camps themselves, as the ultimate mirror – and one of the differentiators in the book is who can bear to look himself in the eyes.

There have been some brilliant literary re-engagements with Nazism recently – this isn’t as deep, dark and twisted as The Kindly Ones, or as brilliantly performed and moving as HhHH – but it is one of the best, and possibly the most heartfelt book that Amis has written.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Martin Amis's best book this century, 20 Sep 2014
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Martin Amis's best book this century, by quite some distance. I finished it and immediately read it again. Unlike the majority of books with a historical setting, you do not get the author's research rammed down your throat. Amis is so immersed in the subject - witness his dissertation at the end of the book - that the backdrop to the story seeps through every page of the book. The story itself is beautifully rendered. Close to perfect.
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