House of Meetings by Martin Amis - review by Sam Leith

Sam Leith

A Wintry Tale

House of Meetings


Jonathan Cape 243pp £15.99 order from our bookshop

This novella is the best thing Martin Amis has done in fiction for years: very complex, very forceful, startling in the amount of ground it covers, and densely and intelligently put together. Though there are, as I'll discuss later, problems with it, you'd have to be dumb not to read it with admiration.

House of Meetings is presented as a manuscript memoir, sent by the unnamed narrator to his daughter and written, in old age, during a trip in which he returns as a tourist to the Russian gulag where he was enslaved in the 1940s. Venus, his daughter, grew up in America – ‘the name of your ideology, in case anyone asks, is Westernism. It would be of no use to you here.’ As his wintry travelogue unfolds, the narrator describes the years in the camp, and his relationship with his younger brother Lev, also interned there, during those years and afterwards. It represents a sort of coming clean, but with a vicious twist. 

At the centre of the narrator's relationship with Lev is a bewitching Jewish beauty called Zoya, with whom the narrator has a lifelong erotic fixation – yet who married Lev. The House of Meetings is the little hut in the gulag set aside for conjugal visits, where Lev first consummates

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