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Wednesday, December 27th, 2006
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House of Meetings

by Martin Amis

Big Book of the Month: House of Meetings

A review by Benjamin Alsup

If gulags don't sound like your idea of fun, be forewarned: Martin Amis's new novel, House of Meetings, is not a fun book. It's something of a labor, actually -- forced labor, collective labor, the labor of love. And as Amis tells the story of two brothers locked in a slave camp, he labors mightily to make real the nightmare of Russian history. Often he succeeds. Sometimes the characters get stuck in the fog of tragedy, the prose turning didactic and portentous. (Stalin bad. Got it.) But even when Amis fails, he says things better and more beautifully than anybody else playing the game. He still owns the subject of male violence, and it's fascinating to see him turn his attention from the atrocities of the pub to the megahorrors of the pogrom. And every 20 pages or so, he writes a sentence that reminds you why you've got to read him. So read this book. And when you're finished, drink a bottle of vodka. Smoke cigarettes. Cry over the inescapable certainty of death and the impossible beauty of women. Drink more. Smoke more. Think about the ways you are glad that you are not Russian and only have to read about being Russian. In the Siberian cold of January, be glad for Martin Amis.

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