Saturday, August 30, 2008

Notes on Martin Amis’ ‘Money’

Plot summary (From

Money tells the story of, and is narrated by, John Self, a successful di-rector of commercials, who is invited to New York by Fielding Good-ney, a film producer, in order to shoot his first film. Self is an arche-typal hedonist and slob; he is usually drunk, an avid consumer of por-nography and prostitutes, eats too much and, above all, spends too much, encouraged by Goodney.
The actors in the film, which Self originally titles ‘Good Money’ but which he eventually wants to re-name ‘Bad Money’, all have some kind of emotional issues which clash with each other and with the parts they are asked to play — the principal casting having already been done by Goodney. For example: the strict Christian, Spunk Davis (whose name is intentionally unfortunate), is asked to play a drugs pusher; the age-ing hardman Lorne Guyland has to be beaten up; the motherly Caduta Massi, who is insecure about her body, is asked to appear in a sex scene with Lorne, whom she detests, and so on. The character of Lorne Guyland was based on real-life Kirk Douglas.
Self is stalked by ‘Frank the Phone’ while in New York, a menacing misfit who threatens him over the telephone, apparently because Self personifies the success Frank was unable to attain. Self is not fright-ened of Frank, even when he is beaten up while on an alcoholic bender (unable to remember how he was attacked). Towards the end of the book Self arranges to meet Frank for a showdown, which is the begin-ning of the shocking denouement. It appears that Goodney has some-thing to do with it, and the invitation to Self to direct a film was part of a bigger plan.
Self returns to London before filming begins, revealing more of his humble origins, his landlord father Barry (who makes his contempt for his son clear by invoicing him for every penny spent on his upbring-ing) and pub doorman Fat Vince. Self is convinced that his London girlfriend, Selina, is having an affair with Ossie Twain, while Self is likewise attracted to Twain’s wife in New York, Martina. This increases Self’s psychosis and makes his final downfall even more brutal.
There are some hilarious set pieces, such as when Self wakes to find he has skipped an entire day in his inebriated state, the tennis match and the attempts to change Spunk’s screen name. The writing is also full of witty one-liners and silly names for consumer goods, such as Self’s car, the Fiasco, and the Blastfurters which he snacks on and Butcher’s Arm, the pub.
Amis writes himself into the novel as a kind of overseer and confidant in Self’s final breakdown. He is an arrogant character, but Self is not afraid to express his rather low opinion of Amis, such as the fact that he earns so much yet ‘lives like a student.’ Amis, among others, tries to warn Self that he is heading for destruction but to no avail. The New York bellhop, Felix, becomes Self’s only real friend in America and fi-nally makes Self realise the trouble he is in: “Man, you are out for a whole lot of money.”
The novel's subtitle, "A Suicide Note", is clarified at the end of the novel. It is revealed that Barry Self is not John Self’s father; his father is in fact Fat Vince. As such, John Self no longer exists. Hence, in the subtitle, Amis indicates that this cessation of John Self’s existence is analogous to suicide, which of course, results in the death of the self.
After learning that his father is Fat Vince, John realises that his true identity is that of Fat John, half-brother of Fat Paul. The novel ends with Fat John having lost all his money (if it ever existed), yet he is still able to laugh at himself and is cautiously optimistic about his future.

Plot Overview

The novel ‘Money’ tells the story of John Self, told from his point of view. Whatever we know about John and his surrounding is what John would tell us, which makes the story unreliable to a certain extent be-cause John is a selfish person to start with (that is why his surname, Self, is apt. When, towards the end of the now, John tries to find solace of his downfall from the character of Martin Amis, who comes to play the role of a friend and confidence to John, Amis says that the reason why John was chosen for whatever had happened to him because of his name.)
But while telling his story, John does not appear to be lying. Only thing is that he is under the haze of alcohol most of the time to understand the real meaning of happenings in this life. (There is actually an occa-sion when he is beaten up on the road by Frank the Phone and he does not remember about it at all the next morning.) That apart, the shell-fish, hedonistic and money-minded nature of his character does not allow him to see and understand other people. The sees the women he meets as sex objects. He sees the man as someone who can give him money. It’s only money, sex and drinks that sustain his life. Towards the end of the novel, he finds friendship in hotel bellboy Felix, whom he ignores for most part of the novel.
What the novelist Martin Amis wants to serve by telling the story through an unreliable narrator is that the reader shouldn’t take undue interest in the character. The main aim of the novelist is not to tell us the fate of the main character, but to tell the story of a reality, how the modern world is decaying and destroyed by lust and greed. These two aspects, lust and greed, plays an important role in the novel and as the novel ends, John Self learns to live without money and he is happy. This is one of the important message of the novel, i.e., Money may be an important aspect of life and it is not the be and end all.
The story begins in New York, where John Self, a famous advertise-ment filmmaker, has comes to work in his first feature film, produced by a first time producer Fielding Goodney. John is expecting a lot of money from the deal. He is in a high spirit, rants about the importance of money, how it can solve all problem. He gets down at the airport and have fight with a cab driver. He checks in a hotel and gets drunk and thinks about his so-called girlfriend Selina Street, who according to one of his friend, is having an affair with one of his best friends. We soon come to know that he has no respect for other people. He is even ready to fight to prove his point. He thinks that his money can do eve-rything right. He thinks his keep girl Selina will eventually return to him because he giver her money. He thinks that he is basically a nice guy because he gives away a lot of money.
Slowly other characters are introduced, Through the story is told in a linear structure, there are often flashback to tell a past happening. Yet, there are certain thing that are not told at the time of their happening. For example, John gets a call from an someone threatening him, but does not mention him for a long time.
Fielding Goodney is introduced as a rich guy who insists that John should spend a lot of money. John follows him willing, and gets more and more embroiled in the world of money, drinks and sex. Whereas Goodney, his producer, asks him to "stay ice cool," spend a lot of money, and introduce him to the people who can give him money, the stranger who keeps calling him at his New York hotel room, whom John names Frank the Phone, threaten John that he will take his re-venge, because John has everything that Frank does not have, and be-cause it was John who spoilt his life. John denies that he had ever spoiled anyone's life. But at the next instant, he thinks about Selina, his girl, and decides to stop abusing her physically and get her back to his life, otherwise, he might have spoilt 'another' life. This offers a hint that John may have been instrumental to the downfall of many a people. Thus, the reader fails to take his tragedy, where he looses all his money, seriously.
John then meets the actors of his proposed film, actor Lorne Guyland and actress Caduta Massi. We soon learn that both of them are narcis-sistic and selfish like John himself. Here begins the clash of egos. The plot of the movie is based on John's personal life, his relationship with his father Barry. But Guyland who is supposed to play Barry's charac-ter refuses to accept Barry as a middle class pub owner, he wants the character to be super rich, and he wants to show several sex scenes in the film, one involving the actress Caduta. The actress however does not want to expose in the film as she is growing old. John have a hard time nursing the actors ego and returns to London.
In London, he calls Selina back to his life. But she needs his money and demands a joint account. We also learn that there is no love between the two, and Selina may be a very cunning woman. It is at this point that the novelist makes an appearance as a character, with his own name, Martin Amis. John makes fun of Amis saying that though the writer earns a lot, he still lives like a college student.
As John continues to travel between New York and London, meet Goodney and his actors, and deal with the stranger over the phone, we come to know about two more character Martina Twain, a smart edu-cated and beautiful woman, in contrast to Selina. John is love with her but cannot make himself ask to have sex with her, as he does with Doris Arthur, the screenplay writer of his film. Martina is the only sensible character in the novel who is not lost in the fast-paced modern culture of sex, alcohol and fast food. She gives John a book to read, George Orwell's Animal Farm. Soon John gets the other book by Or-well 1984.
Soon we come to know about John Self's humble background and his complex relationship with his father. Barry John is a simple landlord who owns a pub. We are also introduced to the pub's doorman Fat Vince and his son Fat Paul. John does not get along with Barry and the relationship becomes increasing worse when Barry gives John an in-voice asking his to payback each penny that he had spent on John's up-bringing. In a way, the film John proposes to make is an attempt to un-derstand his relationship with his father. But he is not happy how his actors want to change the context of the character. He is also frustrated by the fact that the screenplay writer, Doris Arthur has failed to com-plete the script. Back in London, he meets Martin Amis again and asks him to develop the story in his mind. As Martin tries to probe into John mind, he realises that John has gone too far in his selfishness and in his hatred. Amis asks him to get his acts together. But it's already too late.
As the novel ends, we come to know that John Self has lost everything he had every valued, including his money, his stake in the business, his lover Martina, and eventually his name. It appears that Fielding Good-ney was a fraud and disappeared wit the money raised for the film. The stranger Frank the phone gets his revenge. Selina too have to re-venge and leaves John without any money. The people whom he owes money refuses to help him. Finally, his father tells him that John is not in reality Barry Self's son, but the son of the doorman Fat Vince. So, John Self is actually Fat John.
Despite losing all his money, which he considered the most important thing in life, at the end of the novel, when he takes up a job as a ice-cream parlour attendant, John learns to live life as it comes and learns to be happy with whatever he has got.
The massage of the novel is clear. Money, to begin with, is a delusion. What is more important is to understand life and accept it as it comes.

Narrative Structure / Style and content of the novel

Post-modern novel

Money is perhaps one of the earliest post-modern fiction which in-cludes all the characterises of a post-modern text. While modern fic-tion, the 20th century fiction till 1970, considered man as the centre of the novelist's investigation of the world, post-modern fiction refuses to acknowledge this centre. Following the post-structuralism theory, post-modern fiction believes that there is no centre in the structure that the text deals with. As opposed to modernism, postmodernism sees the world from outside, from the fringes. That's the reason why though John Self tells his own story in the first person, he is not an omniscient narrator. We do not know everything that is going on in his mind, or whatever is happening to him, which is a classic situation in omnis-cient narration. For example, John Self does not tell us how Barry came to raise him when John was not his son. John does not tell us his actual relationship with Selina except the sexual ones.
In a post-modern narrative, the author often disassociate himself with the characters. This is especially true in case of Money, where we see the narrator John Self as an unreliable person. What is more unique about Money is that here, the author, Martin Amis, makes an appear-ance as himself, and what's more, he is introduced by the narrator. It is like telling about the self through third person. The remarks John Self makes about Amis not altogether good. John laughs at Amis' poverty, his literature and so on. However, the appearance is not a gimmick. It serves a definite purpose. Since we are dealing with a protagonist who most of the time does not understand what's going on around him, who most of the time is inebriated, and who is selfish to the core, the character of Martin Amis provides us the authorial voice. He explains the meaning of John Self's behaviour. It is because of his comments that we come to understands John's downfall and to a certain extent we come to appreciate his new found realisation and his appreciation for a simple, moneyless life.
In most parts, a post-modern novel is a 'Meta Narrative', meaning that the story is not told in a linear manner, and there are layers and layers of the story. Apparently, the narrative of the novel Money goes in a linear structure. It deals with the experience of a man who is too in-volved with himself and the consumerism of the time. In one sense the novel is a commentary on the growing commercialisation of the world, where McDonald's meaning food and a Mercedes means social status, where love (physical relationship) can be bought off the counter and where human life and emotions have no values. Within this circum-stances, Money is the story of a man, who is the perfect product of this consumerism, and the novel goes on to tell how his life comes down crashing when he begins to ignore the age-old values and begins to chase money. It's a perfect study of greed.
(A novel about narrative) Within this structure, within the tale that John Self tells us, there are other stories, which gives us insight to not only John's but also about other characters. John has a plot in his mind on the basic of which he wants to make a movie. The plot involves fa-ther and son, a middle class household who fight over a packet of heroine and a girl with whom both the father and the son sleep. He gives the story idea to Doris Arthur. Now, Arthur, a lesbian, comes to a totally different idea about the plot. When the star of the proposed film, Lorne Guyland, hears the plot, he comes up with his own about the character of the father. He turns Garry, the father, into Garfield, a rich man, a patron of art and literature and what not. He even refuses to be beaten up by his screen son, even if the story demands it. Finally, John seeks help of the writer Martin Amis to develop the plot. Here also the plot gets a different treatment. Amis tells John: "The distance between the author and the narrator corresponds to the degree to which the author finds the narrator wicked, deluded, pitiful and ridicu-lous..." This is, in one sense, reflects the actual narrator, Martin Amis' attitude towards the character of John Self.

John Self as an Unreliable Narrator

At the first glance, John Self sounds like a unreliable narrator, someone who is consciously hiding the facts and telling the stories about which is comfortable about. He spends most of the time by telling about his handjobs, his pains and the drinks he has consumed, more than what he feels and what his life is like. More than internalising, he tells us about the sight and sound of New York and London, go-go bars and drink joints. He tries to avoid talking about Frank the Phone for a long time. He does not tell us his fight with Selina. He does not tell us what Doris Arthur tells him after his drunken behaviour in a restaurant. Again, he avoids telling us about his father as long as possible, only mentioning that Barry Self owes money from him.
Again, whenever he tells about himself, he tries to project himself as a good person, he gives tips to everyone, he buys drinks to call girls, he has even taken a vow not to hit his girlfriend Selina anymore.
But in reality, John Self is an unreliable narrator not because he does not tell us the truth or he distorts the truth. He is an unreliable narrator because he does not know the true. There is a big difference between the two. John's unreliability does not come from a conscious plan, but from his inability to understand and comprehend reality.
Most of the time, John Self is in a drunken haze. The things he cares about are money, sex and drink. He does not want to think beyond this. He does not have respect and love for anyone else. He meets people only because they can give him money. Money is his only moti-vation. Thus, more than unreliability, it's unawareness that is the flaw of John Self's narrative. He does not choose what he wants to say. He says whatever he knows. There are times he is not even sure what is going on around him. The mysterious character Frank the Phone keeps tabs of his every move, but John does not even remember who this guy was, even after Franks gives a lot of hints. John spends time with Fielding Goodney, but for once cannot guess that he is a fraud. He does not want to even believe that Doris Arthur is a lesbian. He naively thinks that Selina will stay with him forever because she needs money, without even realising that she is a cunning woman and is capable to plotting against him. He tires to seduce Martina, without knowing what Martina wants, or how her husband may react to it. He is so much involved with himself and so much sure about himself that he does not even bother to find out with whom Selina may be having an affair. At one point he says about Selina, “I love her corruption,” with-out realising the fact that her corruption would soon lead to his down-fall.

A commentary on modern life

The novel, Money is a powerful criticism against consumerism at its worse. The modern, globalised pop culture, where everything is for sale, and where money can buy everything, even happiness, as John Self would say, is depicted as a shallow, lifeless world. This lifelessness is especially intensified by the fact that John Self, the narrator tells most of the story when he is drunk. The world is seen from the point of view of a drunken haze. It’s a world where family values are judged in terms of money. Barry Self offers a long list of invoice asking his son to pay every penny he had spend on his son’s upbringing. It’s a fast-paced life where love is counted with money. Selina plots against her lover to get hold of his money. This is a world where the ability to spend is the ultimate goal. Fielding Goodney admonishes John for not travelling in a business class, for not spending enough money. This is a world where money makes up for everything. As John Self says, every-thing in the world is about money.


John Self

An English ad filmmaker, famous for his raunchy, sexually explicit ads for nude magazines. Despite most of his ads being banned from play-ing on the television, he gets a chance to direct a big budget film in New York. He is a selfish person and an ardent believer of commercial-ism. He believes money is the be all and end all. He thinks that money can buy everything. He is a drunkard who is always in a drinking haze. He is the one who does not care about anyone, not even his father and his lover. Though he has a girlfriend, he does not mind sleeping around with prostitutes. He thinks that he is a good person because he spends money on other people. He thinks all women are sex objects and all men are something through which you make money.
He is in love with Martina Twain, wife of one of his friends, even though her husband hates him and plots to harm him.
After living a hedonistic amoral life in London and New York, he comes to his senses with a series of shocks. First, he finds out that his producer in America is a fraud. Then his girlfriend Selina double-crosses him. He looses all his money, his reputation, everything. To top that he comes to realise that he is not his father’s son. His father is ac-tually the doorman of the pub owned by his supposed father. Thus, it appears that the life John Self was leading was a false one, including the name he was carrying, because after he comes to realise that Barry Self is not his father, he stopped being John Self, in other words he stopped being himself. He becomes someone else, Fat John.
In the end of the novel, he takes up a job of at an ice-cream parlour, come to appreciate his nowfound status as Fat John even though he does not have any money.

Fielding Goodney

An American. Producer of the film to be directed by John Self. Sup-posed to be a rich man, but in reality a fraud.

Selina Street

John Self’s on and off girlfriend. A beautiful girl in late 20s, without money but a gold-digger. She plots with Ossie Twain the downfall of John.

Ossie Twain

John’s one-time friend. Now, married to Martina.

Martina Twain

A married women with whom John Self is in love. Unlike other women with whom John have sex, he fails to seduce Martina because she is realistic and down to earth. She gives John Self the book Animal Farm by George Orwell to read

Alec Lewellyn

John Self friend who owes money from him.

Barry Self

John Self father, a money-minded man who demands from his son the cost of his upbringing. Owner of a London pub. Finally, it appears that he is not John’s real father.

Fat Vince

Doorman of the pub owned by Barry Self. John Self’s real father.

Fat Paul

Fat Vince’s son. John Self’s step brother

Lorne Guyland

A famous Hollywood hero who is obsessed with is body and his screen persona.

Caduta Massi

A famous Hollywood heroine who is worried that her age is showing. An obsessive mother figure.

Spunk Davis

An upcoming actor, whom John first cast as Lorne Guyland’s son in his film.


The bellboy of the hotel in New York where John is staying.

Frank the Phone

The stranger who keeps calling up John Self in New York and claims that John has destroyed his life. Once he beats up John even though john does not remember the incident.

Doris Arthur

A lesbian woman, who is hired to write the screenplay for John Self’s film. Also part of the plan to destroy John’s career.

Martin Amis

The author of the novel. Appears as a novelist himself. A confidante to John Self

Meaning of the title

The subtitle of the novel Money is called ‘A Suicide Note’. To begin with it sound misleading, and to a certain extent pointless because fi-nally John Self does not die in the novel. Yet, the book is a suicide note as John actually tries to kill himself. But he fails to die, as he fails every-thing else in life. But in his failures, he finds a new life, which is very different from the earlier life. In this sense, the title A Suicide Note is apt since John Self actually dies and in his place, Fat John is born.
The personality of Fat John that appears at the end of the novel is very different from John Self at the beginning. Thus, symbolically the earlier John dies and in his place a new John is born.
The title Money allude to growing commercialisation in the world and how it has begun to dictate our lives. It’s a criticism on hedonistic liv-ing. Though the character of John Self vouch for money, lives a mon-eyed life for a long time, he comes to realise happiness and meaning of life only when all his money is lost. Thus, the novels places consumer-ism against the reality of life as it is.


  1. Anonymous4:50 AM

    its not meta-narrative its called metafiction. and that has nothing to do with layers of stories. Its a "device" (not at all postmodern if you look at Laurence Sterne's "Tristam Shandy") to display the artificialness of every narration, to clearify that this is not real life but a work of fiction. Or even fiction about writing fiction (Both cases are more or less true for Money).
    And there are a lot of textual signals indicate that J Self is the personification and perfect example of an unreliable narrator.
    When you read interviews with MA he allways says that he didnt intend to write critically on Thatcherism but to draw a comic monster - which he brilliantly succeeded in.
    You should be a bit more careful with some statements because sometimes you are far off the facts.

  2. Anonymous4:53 AM

    me again ... i didnt mean to critzise you, but i'm writing a magister artium degree on the novel and those things stroke me as not right and i thought i might as well mention them to you.

  3. Thanks of the comment, and you are write. I should be work on the piece. I compiled the whole as notes for a friend who was appearing for am exam, so... But that's not an excuse.

  4. Marie7:29 AM

    Very helpful, thank you!!!!