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Martin Amis’ London Fields depicts a non-traditional murder story which Samson Young, the narrator, seeks to transcribe. On a quest to find her murderer as part of a suicidal death wish, Nicola Six forms relationships with Keith Talent and Guy Clinch, two candidates she believes may commit murder if properly provoked. While it appears that Nicola Six is an autonomous figure of authority in that she is the orchestrator of her own demise, Nicola is actually the weakest of the characters in London Fields because of her dependence upon certain individuals for the outcome of her self-foretold future.
Nicola’s dependence on Keith Talent lies in her belief that he is her potential murderer, thus leading her to initiate a sexual relationship in which she enacts events designed to provoke Keith to commit murder. The narrator first introduces Keith as “a bad guy. Keith Talent was a very bad guy. You might even say he was the worst guy” (4), further explaining that “every pub has its superstar, its hero, its pub athlete, and Keith was the knight of the Black Cross” (23). We soon come to know Keith as a “cheat” (6), who possesses a love of darts, “sex, violence, and sometimes money” (165), and who always seems to be suffering from a “wall-eyed hangover” (111). Keith is so convincing as “the murderer” (3), that as soon as Nicola entered the Black Cross and “surveyed the main actors of the scene, she immediately knew, with pain, with gravid arrest, with intense recognition, that she had found him, her murderer” (22). Nicola quickly recognizes that love will not be a strong enough motivator for Keith to commit murder: “the capacity for love was extinct in him. It was never there. Keith wouldn’t kill for love. He wouldn’t cross the road, he would never swerve the car for love. Nicola raised her eyes to heaven at the thought of what this would involve her in sexually” (72). In her attempts of discovering “what would move [Keith] to murder” (202), Nicola reveals that “the tricks she was going to play on Keith and Guy were good tricks; but they were low and cruel and almost unrelievedly dirty” (202).
James Diedreck, a critic of the novel, provides insight into Nicola’s tactics when he suggests that “to Keith, whose libido is all factoid and tabloid, she is the incarnation of his wildest pornographic fantasies. Nicola knows this, and she knowingly exploits it” (122). Through various scenes of sexual scenarios and pornographic videos, it would appear as though Nicola exerts power over Keith through her puppet master-like manipulations of him, however; Nicola is dependent on Keith because she believes him to be a contender in the role of her murderer. Without Keith, or any of the other key players she believes to be involved in her ultimate demise, her need to scheme and manipulate would be non-existent, thus making evident her weakness as a character due to her lack of independence despite her authoritative nature.
Though Keith becomes tangled in Nicola’s twisted web of self-destruction, he benefits from their relationship through sexual and financial rewards, proving his independence as a character through his survival of Nicola. Keith’s marriage with his wife, Kath, is frail at best: “Everything he cherished, everything he looked for in a woman, Kath didn’t have” (108). While much of Keith and Nicola’s relationship is purely sexual, being that “he’s an obsessional tailchaser of the type that was meant to have died out ears ago. He slurps at everything remotely bim-like on the street” (134), with most of his thoughts of her being “frankly pornographic” (55), Nicola ultimately provides Keith with the elements his marriage lacks. Nicola makes Keith feel needed: “He bent forward and whispered, with certainty, ‘She… she has need of me.’” (112), “She understands me. She’s the only one that understands me” (288). This idea is perhaps the most evident when Keith explains that “he wanted to see [Nicola] very badly, not for the act of love and hate…No: he wanted her for her belief in him, because she was the other world, and if she said that Keith was real then the other world would say it too” (446). In regards to Nicola, Keith expresses that “this bird is really seriously good news. She’s a fucking miracle. Where has she been all my life?” (175). Keith also benefits financially from his and Nicola’s relationship, finding that “there was money, it seemed, in Nicola Six” (169). Though the reader learns that Keith “never had what it took to be the murderer” (6), it is through the benefits that Keith reaps from his relationship with Nicola as well as his innocence in her murder that he is able to overcome her character; confirming his strength and independence as a character, and her weakness and lack of independence.
Nicola’s long time belief that “love in some form would be present at her death” (72), leads her to initiate a romantic relationship with another potential murderer, Guy Clinch, in which she carefully orchestrates events she believes will encourage him to kill for love. The narrator introduces Guy as “the foil, the foal, Guy Clinch…a genuinely delightful human being” (14) with “a tremendous amount of money, excellent health, handsomeness, height, a capriciously original mind” (27). Due to the pressures of his failing marriage with his wife, Hope, a marriage “waiting to be invaded” (140), when Guy first meets Nicola he is “ready,” “wide open” (36). Diedreck explains that “to Guy, Nicola is a woman of beauty and breeding in need of his protection; she fires his nostalgia for the passion that has leaked from his marriage” (122). After Guy admits that “every few years he secretly ‘fell in love.’ It was like an illness that passed after a couple of weeks; the love virus, efficiently repelled by a determined immune system” (87), it is easy to believe that he would fall so hard and so fast for Nicola. Robin Ramsay, the course author, explains that “in Nicola’s hands, Guy is putty. Because he espouses an archaic code of chivalry, he is blind to Nicola’s manipulation” and “believing himself to be in love with her, he unconsciously conducts the affair like a fourteenth-century courtly lover” (114). Guy’s obliviousness to Nicola’s manipulation frustrates her: “What would she have to do to arise suspicion in this man? If he’d come in and found her lying naked on the sofa with one leg hooked over the back of it, satedly mumbling to herself and relishing a languorous cigarette – he would have assumed she was suffering from the heat” (132). Despite Nicola rendering Guy hopelessly wrapped around her finger after encouraging his love for her, even though it was only “like being in an ad for love” for her (348), she still cannot escape her dependence on his character for the outcome of her eventual fate.
Despite falling victim to Nicola’s schemes and manipulations, Guy benefits from his relationship with Nicola in that she provides Guy with elements that are lacking from his disintegrating marriage, and, like Keith, his independence as a character is evident through his innocence and survival of Nicola. Nicola “had the power of inspiring love, almost anywhere” (20), and she “really did a number on [Guy]” (97). Though Guy “didn’t deserve the humiliation and havoc” Nicola put him through, he actually ended up benefiting from their relationship. The narrator notes that after meeting Nicola, “something had now made wonder work for Guy. He woke up and thought, Air! Light! Matter! Serious, poor, beautiful: everything you care to name” (96). Guy explains that “he had never felt more alive. He had never felt happier” (142), and that “if not too good for this world, [Nicola] was, in his view, far too good for this time” (154). The narrator further suggests that Nicola “could make a man feel he was at last really living, she could give his world high colour” (298). Though this love does not last for Guy following Nicola’s fateful death, he experiences feelings that he had not in a long time, therefore allowing him to benefit from their relationship. Similar to Keith, Guy is also able to overcome Nicola through his innocence in her death and prove his independence as a character.
On the surface, Nicola believes her relationship with Samson Young to be one of strictly business, he functioning as the scribe of her grand scheme; yet their relationship proves to be complex in that she unknowingly depends on him to be her murderer. Nicola reveals her motive for allowing Sam to transcribe her story when she explains “what women want”: “They all want to be in it. Whatever it is. Among themselves they want to be bigger breasted, browner, better in bed – all that. But they want a piece of everything. They want in. They all want to be in it. They all want to be the bitch in the book” (162). As their relationship develops, Sam notes that “with [him], she can let her hair down” (119), explaining that their interdependence upon one another has led to a relationship in which they “can’t talk to anybody else like [they] can to each other” (161), while carefully making the distinction that they were not in love: “I’m not in love with Nicola. Something intertwines us, but it isn’t love” (233). Diedrick lends insight into the complex relationship between Nicola and Sam when he explains that “London Fields focuses on a woman who is fatefully, synergistically involved with her narrator” (131). Despite their close relationship, the thought of Sam being a potential candidate as her murderer never appears to come to fruition and she is focuses her energy on Keith and Guy. However, Peter Stokes, a critic of the novel, explains that Nicola is just as dependent on Sam as she is the other two characters: “Nicola needs Sam for a murderer” (309). Therefore, Nicola’s relationship with yet another man highlights her weakness and lack of independence as a character due to her dependence on Sam to murder her.
Nicola single-handedly creates the story for Sam, thus benefiting his career; however, despite his dependence on Nicola, Sam ultimately overcomes Nicola through his story. After “two decades of fastidious torment, two decades of non-starting” (3), Sam “can’t believe [his] luck” (1) when he meets Nicola Six. Patrick Gill, another critic of the novel, explains that “Nicola’s murder story, her plot against herself, already offers unity, drama and appeal, and in admitting to this, Sam seems to propose her as the ‘true’ author… he is her writing instrument” (41). Diedreck suggests that Sam “feels sickly and enraptured at having met Nicola, who relieves him of the burden of creation by creating the story of London Fields, which he can simply transcribe” (119). Although Sam benefits from his relationship with Nicola career-wise, he is also entirely dependent upon her for her story: “none of this would have ever gotten started without the girl. It didn’t have a hope in hell without the girl. Nicola Six was the miracle, the absolute donnee” (14). However, despite the control Nicola is able to exercise over Sam, Brian Finney, a critic of the novel, explains that Sam is ultimately able to overcome Nicola: “It is his story of her story. He has outlived her. He has contained her within a larger narrative” (13). In this way, Nicola has once again proven to be the weakest of the characters despite the apparent authority she exercises over Keith, Guy, and Sam in the scheme of her own self-destruction. Robin Ramsay explains Nicola’s character best when she explains that “Nicola Six is arguably the least satisfying of the characters in London Fields. Perhaps because she is more overtly an idea, or the mouthpiece of an idea, than Keith and Guy, who despite their representation of class levels, do work as individuals, Nicola seems what she is: the plot catalyst rather than an individualized character” (115).
Nicola Six is arguably the weakest of the characters in London Fields. Although her outward behaviour elicits dominance and authority through her manipulations of Keith, Guy, and Sam, it is evident that she is the weakest point of the cross because of her dependence on these characters to help her reach her goal of death.
Amis, Martin. London Fields. 1989. New York: Vintage International. 1991.
Diedreck, James. Excerpt from “Apocalypse Now.” Understanding Martin Amis. 2nd ed. Columbia, SC: U of South Carolina P, 2004. 118-132.
Finney, Brian. “Narrative and Narrated Homicides in Martin Amis’s Other People and London Fields.” Critique, 37(1). 1995: 3-17.
Gill, Patrick. “You Didn’t Set Me Up. Did You? Genre, Authorship and Absence in Martin Amis’s London Fields and Night Train.” Trespassing Journal, 2013: 36-51.
Ramsey, Robin. “Unit 5: London Fields.” ENGL 424: Modern British Fiction. Kamloops, BC: TRU Open Learning, 2008. Print.
Stokes, Peter. “Martin Amis and the Postmodern Suicide: Tracing the Postnuclear Narrative at the Fin De Millennium.” Critique, 38(4), 1997: 300-311.
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