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House of Meetings Hardcover – 18 Sep 2006
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Everything is presented with Amis's customary élan and intelligence (M John Harrison Guardian)
It is difficult not to be impressed by this compact tour de force... Amis has produced a memorable novel and a memorable protagonist (Toby Lichtig Observer)
Undeniably, distinctively identifiable, vintage Martin (Tim Martin Independent on Sunday)
Unmistakably Amis's best novel since London Fields ... a slender, moving novel, streaked with dark comedy (Robert Macfarlane Sunday Times)
The novel has a cumulative power and resonates with many reflections about the course of individual destiny in a profoundly cruel universe (Douglas Kennedy The Times)
Bound to be a major literary event, Martin Amis's new novella is both pertinent and provocative.See all Product description
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Shortly before he had been arrested, Lev had married Zoya. “Vlad” had known Zoya since 1946, when she was 17 and he was 25. They had been neighbours and fellow-students at the Tech, and she was very promiscuous. During the war, as a soldier, “Vlad” had raped his way across Europe as the Soviet Army advanced; but he had fallen passionately in love with her. However, he had had only limited success with her, whereas Lev had actually got her to agree to marry him.
By 1956, after the death of Stalin, the authorities allowed rare and brief visits of spouses. These took place in a “House of Meetings” just outside the camp. Lev never told “Vlad” exactly what had happened at that meeting, except that Zoya would go on waiting for him to be released. Only near the end of the book, in a letter written to “Vlad” and read by him after Lev’s death, do we learn the deeper impact this occasion had made on Lev.
Soon after the meeting, the camp was demolished and Lev and “Vlad” were free.
We are now just over half way through the book, and it is the best half. It is sometimes self-indulgently over-written and precious; but it does give a vivid and horrifying picture of life in the camps. And there are throughout the book references to the history of the Soviet Union and to post-Soviet Russia: the massacre at the school in Beslan, for example; or the disaster in the Salang Tunnel during the Afghan war. Though there are changes after the death of Stalin and again after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, “Vlad” (understandably) has a thoroughly jaundiced view about the country under whatever regime.
After the release from the camp I found the book increasingly difficult to follow, and I will not even try to summarize here those parts of the narrative I think I did understand. Other reviewers have said that the book is about the two half-brothers both being in love with Zoya. We know that “Vlad” had loved her before she had married Lev; but there is no indication in the first half of the book that he wasstill obsessed by her. That becomes apparent in the second half of the book, especially after Lev’s death in 1982. But everything is now oblique; and the writing becomes more mannerist than ever. I became increasingly exasperated, though, as the book has received five stars from some reviewers, they have obviously understood more of it than I was able to do.