The unwitting enslavement caused by money is a topic that many writers have examined (particularly in George Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying). Martin Amis’ novel, Money, is a simultaneous homage and slandering of it. Detailing the spiral of John Self, a director of commercials with a weakness for alcohol, money and pornography, we are content to watch him go mad from materialism after being given the opportunity to direct a feature length film that will either be titled Good Money or Bad Money. Fielding Goodney, the producer of the movie, is madcap enough to let John do essentially whatever he wants, pouring more and more money into the film without any questions asked. Such uninhibited spending permits John’s most debauched whims and desires to come to light.
John Self, Hedonist and Pervert
The fact that Money was written in 1984 is telling of a decade that was dominated by the conservative fiscal and social policies of then prime minister Margaret Thatcher. With such palpable repression in the air, both in London and New York–the cities where the story alternates–it is no wonder that John has a bit of trouble in the self-control department.
His penchant for drinking, porn and hand jobs heightens tenfold when he goes to New York to consult with the cast, producer and screenwriter of Good Money. Aware that he should be more faithful to his British girlfriend, Selena Street, John tries to make an effort to be better, less salacious and cut back on the drinking. This plan, however, seems to be impossible to execute during his extended stay in New York City.
Dealing With The Cast and Foibles of Good Money (a.k.a. Bad Money)
In addition to a questionably lax producer and a screenwriter completely unwilling to tailor the nature of the characters in the script to the actors playing them, Self must also deal with a star-studded cast and all of the associated egos that accompany such a fact. Spunk Davis (who Self begs to change his name) is devoutly religious, but is cast in the role of a drug dealer, Caduta Massi, a middle-aged movie star with extreme qualms about nudity, is cast as a woman with a strong sexual appetite for her co-star, Lorne Guyland, whose character is also in contrast to who he is in real life–feeble and lacking virility.
Nonetheless, the daily stipend Self is able to spend as a result of agreeing to direct the film is too substantial for him to pass up. Venturing to a haunt on Third Avenue where he pays for hand jobs, Self is permitted to indulge as much as he wants without doing any actual real work. Self is so utterly and admittedly enslaved by the comforts and pleasures brought by money, he notes, “Perhaps there are other bits of my life that would take on content, take on shadow, if only I read more and thought less about money.” But alas, that is the plight of every person who has existed in a post-bartering system world.
The Downfall of John Self
As is typical of the irreverent writing style Martin Amis is renowned for, the author writes himself into Money midway through the novel. Self notices Amis sitting in the same bar alone and introduces himself, much to Amis’ unmasked disinterest. The two later run into each other again at a restaurant where Amis gives him a spiel about drinking excessively that is as follows: “It all comes down to choices, doesn’t it? Do you want to feel good at night or do you want to feel good in the morning? It’s the same with life. Do you want to feel good young or do you want to feel good old? One or the other, not both.” Amis’ random recurrence throughout the book ultimately serves to signal Self’s stark realization that he has been conned by Fielding Goodney.
Though he does not want to acknowledge it, Amis holds the truth up to Self like a multi-prismed mirror that just can’t be ignored. Over a game of chess, Amis spells everything out: Goodney made up the entire existence of the movie, having Self sign documents that had absolutely nothing to do with Good Money, but instead set up defective companies in the name of Self & Self. None of the money was ever real, leaving Self struggling just to flee New York and return to London.
Back to Basics
Very much against his will, Self manages to escape the United States in one piece to engage in a life of unbridled poverty in London (quite possibly the worst city to be broke in). As if things couldn’t be any more dramatic, John learns that his father, Barry, is not the man who sired him. All along, John’s true father has been a pub proletarian named Fat Vince, effectively eradicating John’s former existence. It is ironically appropriate that he should start anew both in name and in lifestyle, a choice Amis makes with deliberate precision in his enthralling conclusion to the novel.