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4.1 out of 5 stars
The Zone of Interest
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 10 November 2014
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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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 28 August 2014
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 15 September 2014
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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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 11 February 2015
Amis has been struggling with the Holocaust off and on for some time and, apart from the fact that his wife is Jewish, I’ve never been quite sure why. He’s also had a pretty patchy career. Perhaps the two are related? He has written and said quite a lot about this book and my feeling is that he felt he had to do the subject justice, and was too insecure in the consistency of his own abilities to have that much confidence. He confesses that it was only when read something akin to Primo Levi’s marginalia that he felt free from the need to understand and explain. Having more or less devoured huge chunks of the book in a few hours I can see the truth in that. I almost feel I could describe ZONE OF INTEREST as a ‘romp’.

The whole work is set in a death camp. Each chapter is told through at least three voices: Doll, the Commandant in the best B movie style; Golo, purportedly Boorman’s nephew and a playboy (in the best B movie style) and Szmul, leader of the Sonderkommando, happily (for a while at least) pitchforking his own folks into the big fire. The stories are more or less the personal, day to day narratives of these three as they struggle with prosaic and slightly odious duties of sh@gging, keeping the gas flowing and marshaling the considerable manpower required to ensure the smooth conversion of Jews into ashes and candles. There is, quite deliberately, a very British feel, almost that of sit-com.

Just as I wanted to call the book a romp, I want to call it a joy. Everything about it is amazing. The prose is just spectacular. The characters are immense. It has something of the feel of an ex-pat novel by Orwell or Maugham, with people far from their natural environment keeping their chins up and carrying on, downing sundowners, not mixing with the natives while all the while mixing, mixing, mixing. It is THE KINDLY ONES without 1200 extraneous pages and the psychopath… erm… Yawn, sigh, another boring day at the death camp, episode 17.

Without being exactly clear which the other two might be, I’ll say this is one of the three best Holocaust books written by gentiles; one of the three best Holocaust books written by people who were not there; one of the three best books written by anyone called Amis; and one of the three best books written in English this year.

Is there a criticism? I suppose you could argue that it is ‘wrong’ to deliberately turn these events into what amount to high art – yes, I said ‘high art’ – but honestly, what are the alternatives?
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 27 August 2014
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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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on 26 August 2014
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 31 October 2014
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 26 March 2015
I found this a difficult book to read in many ways. The facts of the Third Reich and of the Holocaust are well known, but no matter how much I read, I have always found it impossible to understand. Martin Amis says something similar in the epilogue, and in a way, this book is an attempt at an explanation. And that makes it a troubling read, as it attempts to delve into the psyche of the guilty. Amis' use of language is beautiful and stunning, and his characters are excellent.

I can see why this novel has proved controversial, especially in its use of humour and satire, but for me it works. A brave novel.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 5 March 2015
Amis tackles this hard and heavy subject with convincing aplomb. He takes us into the camps with a relatively refreshing angle whilst at the same time still exposing us to the full weight of the horrors that occurred there. I enjoyed this because I learned more about other aspects of camp life that I was previously unaware of and I was introduced to a cast of compelling characters (based on real people) who were new to me also. So well done on managing to take on such a difficult and potentially insidious subject and still succeed in creating something fresh and interesting from it.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
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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