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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Night Train

by
Martin Amis


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Night Train



Title: Night Train
Author: Martin Amis
Genre: Novel
Written: 1997
Length: 175 pages
Availability: Night Train - US
Night Train - UK
Night Train - Canada
Train de nuit - France
Night Train - Deutschland

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Our Assessment:

B- : His talent occasionally shines through, but it is a failed noir detective yarn

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Atlantic Monthly B+ 2/1998 Frank Kermode
Boston Globe C 8/2/1998 Gail Caldwell
Entertainment Weekly C+ . Tom DeHaven
The Guardian B+ 11/9/1997 Natasha Walter
The Guardian B- 3/10/1998 Carrie O'Grady
The LA Times B 25/1/1998 Jonathan Levi
Literary Review B 10/1997 Philip Oakes
London Review of Books A 16/10/1997 Adam Phillips
National Review D 9/3/1998 Johnathon Foreman
The New Republic B 16/3/1998 Geoffrey O'Brien
New Statesman B 14/11/1997 Ra Page
New York C+ 2/2/1998 Walter Kirn
The NY Times A- 27/1/1998 Michiko Kakutani
The NY Times Book Rev. A 1/2/1998 Patrick McGrath
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction A Summer/1998 Stephen Bernstein
Salon B 26/1/1998 Allen Barra
The Spectator C+ 27/9/1997 Anita Brookner
The Sunday Times B- 4/10/1998 Trevor Lewis
Time B+ 16/2/1998 Elizabeth Gleick
TLS . 19/9/1997 Sean O'Brien
Wall Street Journal A 29/1/1998 Tom Nolan
World Lit. Today . Fall/1998 Daniel R. Bronson

  Review Consensus:

  Not much of a consensus, though pretty much everyone has some reservations. His pseudo-American cop talk annoys all to some degree, his cop-out ending was also fairly unpopular, but all also acknowledge some fine stylistic moments.


  From the Reviews:
  • "(A) gauzy little shroud of a novel posing as a whodunit, and it's riding on a night train headed south." - Gail Caldwell, Boston Globe

  • "But even when his imagination isn't firing on all cylinders, Amis is still worth picking up, if only to enjoy the jazzy rhythm of his prose. Night Train -- fast, slender, and slight -- reads like a trifling in-betweener, something to keep Amis' name media current while he's finishing his next major book. To be generous, let's call it an "interesting effort." " - Tom De Haven, Entertainment Weekly

  • "(T)hat unresolved conflict between love and cynicism gives this book a haunting, unsettling quality that Amis has never achieved before. All this is not to say that Night Train is an unadulterated success. It may be emotionally richer than Amis's previous novels, but in terms of style and form it doesn't measure up." - Natasha Walter, The Guardian

  • "Martin Amis prefers [crime] bloody and for real and one of the strengths of his novel is that it never condescends or asks special favours. Its weakness is that it does nothing different or better than whats being done already. Crime writing has its pantheon and an invitation to climb aboard will not be forthcoming; not this time round." - Philip Oakes, Literary Review

  • "In Night Train the moral quest of the book is to find bearable forms of self-consciousness. Political correctness heightens self-consciousness, and assumes this to be a good thing. In Night Train political correctness is part of a larger problem, of self-awareness experienced as an obscure punishment." - Adam Phillips, London Review of Books

  • "(Amis') language, his perfect generic mixture of high culture and low, dime-store Dostoevsky and pulp Wittgenstein, is such a massive performer that it sucks up all character, light and matter, leaving us feeling black-holed." - Jonathan Levi, The Los Angeles Times

  • "(I)n Night Train, Amis's need to be a man of big ideas combines with literary snobbery to form a sloppy and unsatisfying mixture. For he is slumming here and won't let you forget it. The whole book feels rushed and cheap, as if the author believes that crime novels are really just trash for the masses. It is hard to be careless and pretentious at the same time, but in this short novel Amis pulls it off." - Johnathon Foreman, National Review

  • "Night Train seems oddly determined to withhold most of the pleasures associated with genre fiction. Its humor is relentlessly glum and selflacerating. It lays its situations out with a matter-of-factness that borders on anomie. It undercuts from the outset any sense that its protagonist will rise to heroic possibilities." - Geoffrey O'Brien, The New Republic

  • "Amis has so mishandled the small stuff -- people, places, voices -- that hes forfeited his right to handle the large stuff. His leap into spacey existentialism lacks a solid platform. Worse, he underestimates the genre hes supposedly paying tribute to." - Walter Kirn, New York

  • "(A) deliciously readable, highly polished diversion, a testament to its author's Nabokovian love of language and games, and his utter ease in delineating the seamy underside of modern life." - Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

  • "This brilliant, painful short novel is, in fact, so profoundly inflected with grief that it achieves in the end a sort of melancholy grandeur." - Patrick McGrath, The New York Times Book Review

  • "This fascinating and dazzlingly written novel does provide solutions to the various mysteries it poses, but those solutions are every bit as enigmatic and disturbing as the problems they solve." - Stephen Bernstein, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "You feel as if Amis does care about his characters, perhaps more than he's cared about most of those in his previous novels, but doesn't know how to give voice to that concern. Night Train feels rootless. "Mike" is convincing as neither a woman nor an American, and the unnamed city Amis places her in gives off no heat. (One suspects it's a pastiche of American big cities that Amis has glimpsed during book tours.)" - Allen Barra, Salon

  • "The conclusion, which is inconclusive, will satisfy no one. Even the red herrings are unconvincing. Even more alarming is the brutal, soft-headed behaviour of the detective, who does not so much conduct the enquiry as make it up as she goes along." - Anita Brookner, The Spectator

  • "Night Train pushes the boundaries of noir almost to the edge of darkness. The experiment does not always work, but this little book never gets boring." - Elizabeth Gleick, Time

  • "(A) dazzling little smart bomb of a novel that whistles into the police-procedural structure only to blow it to bits." - Tom Nolan, Wall Street Journal

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The narrator aboard the Night Train is the dark and sultry detective Mike Hoolihan, a world-weary woman weighed down further by her name, a one-time boozer. "I am a police," she introduces herself to the reader. There's a temptation to let out a groan right there, but this is Famous Amis after all, and he gets the benefit of quite a few doubts. He's good for a few literary tricks, readers tell themselves, and he's been known to get away with sententious beginnings.
       There's a beautiful corpse involved, and that sounds much better already. Her name is Jennifer Rockwell, and she is -- was -- an astronomer (trying to measure the universe -- oy veh !), in her late twenties. She was also the daughter of Hoolihan's chief. And it looks like she done the dirty deed herself. It's not the worst set-up for a detective tale, and Amis goes through some of the paces. A few things are hard to explain -- the victim's life seemed perfect, she seemed to have no reason to kill herself. Then there are the three bullets in her head -- a tough undertaking even for your most committed suicide.
       There's some fun to be had on this nocturnal ride: Amis piles the darkness on good and thick, and jaded Ms. Mike seems a happy medium between the dark side in us all and the small slivers of humanity occasionally glimpsed. Amis writes well, and he has particular fun here, inventing jargon and turns of phrase for his characters in vague imitation of Chandler. Unfortunately Chandler, despite all his years in England, had an ear for the American tongue and could get away with his pithy sayings. Amis, though much vaunted as knowing America so well, has no ear whatsoever for authentic Americana, and so his efforts are, in turn, bemusing, bewildering, and annoying.
       There is some fun philosophizing here -- the victim looked to the stars, after all, Mike was a drunk, after all, and so on. Where Amis fails completely is with his payoff, since there isn't one of note. Fair enough, that's one way to go, but when Amis goes through all these hoops and invokes all the detective-genre tropes then most readers are going to want a little bit more.
       It's a small little novel, readable for a few of the more successful sentences and expressions. It's not much of a story, however, and it is hardly recommended.

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Links:

Night Train: Reviews: Martin Amis: Other books by Martin Amis under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction at the complete review

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About the Author:

       British author Martin Amis was born August 25, 1949. He is the son of the late Sir Kingsley Amis, himself an occasionally noted author. Martin Amis attended Oxford and later worked for the Times Literary Supplement, the New Statesman, and The Observer. His first novel, The Rachel Papers, won the 1974 Somerset Maugham Award. He has since established himself as one of England's foremost writers.

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