Michelle Bailat-Jones

Writer, Translator, Reader

I love reading first novels, especially of writers I already know and respect. But I’ve been having a love/hate relationship with Martin Amis’s The Rachel Papers. Here is an author who can really write, who is wonderfully clever and wordy and funny. But I suspect he knows it and that smugness runs right across nearly every page. Also, the idea behind The Rachel Papers is much what I imagine a story passed between sex-obsessed twentysomething men might be like. All about who gets what, when, how and for how long. And will there be any swapping.


The book reminds me a bit too much of Edward Docx’s The Calligrapher, which I read in 2007 and which I grudgingly admired but which secretly annoyed me to no end. I realize now The Calligrapher was probably a nod to Amis, at least the main characters of the two books and their ridiculously contrived research and preparation for each seduction seem to be cut lovingly from the same cloth. So does their snarky humor and irreverence for anything not having a direct effect on their sex life.


This is neither my kind of book nor my kind of story but Amis is undoubtedly a most excellent writer and for that alone, I’m enjoying The Rachel Papers. Also, Amis’s hero (an unabashed Martin Amis stand-in) reminds me of a friend of mine, an inveterate womanizer who happens to believe his miniscule poetic side somehow makes up for most of his horrible behavior. Men like this are infuriating, and so is Amis’s Charles Highway. He also happens to be literate and just self-deprecating enough I’m willing to read on and see what will happen to him.


If I get through the entire book without slamming the covers shut at least once it will be a miracle.


Happy weekend reading everyone!

9 Responses to “mid-read thoughts – The Rachel Papers”

  1. Melanie

    Hmmm…you’ve just made it clear to me just what it was that annoyed me about The Calligrapher! Now I know, shades of Amis. That is always irritating. 😉 I too grudgingly admired Docx’s book but couldn’t quite pinpoint what I didn’t like, not nearly as easily as you now have.

  2. Litlove

    This is really rather intriguing as the only Martin Amis novel my husband ever liked was this one. However, I do think he read it as a callow youth. Quite tempting to read, just to be able to pour scorn on the pitiful mentality! To be absolutely honest, I do find Amis a bit up himself in hiw writing per se – much prefer Julian Barnes.

  3. Dorothy W.

    I’ve felt ambivalently about Martin Amis too — not about this book but about others I’ve read. He’s really not my kind of author and yet I realize he’s got talent. And yet that doesn’t mean I have to like him. I’m curious if you will get through this book!

  4. Colleen

    I think you’ve convinced me never to give this book a try…it sounds too much like what I don’t like about Philip Roth.

  5. verbivore

    Melanie – Well, now that I’ve finished The Rachel Papers I can say it was a bit better than The Calligrapher, since that book seemed primed with a sappy Hollywood ending and The Rachel Papers not at all. Praise for small miracles 🙂

    Litlove – That is funny! I can see why a young man might really enjoy the Rachel Papers. There were moments I allowed myself to chuckle outloud, but mostly, I wanted to ask Amis why he spent his immense writing talent on such a ridiculous story. Even if it was meant to be funny. I like your comparing Julian Barnes and Amis…maybe I’ll have to read them side by side one of these days.

    Dorothy – I did manage to get through the book and it was … it was okay. I still think Amis is an exceptional writer and I loved his Time’s Arrow and House of Meetings, but this was his first novel and perhaps he should have waited a few more years and then put his talent to work on an actual story. That’s just my opinion, perhaps men of Amis’s generation would disagree with me.

    Colleen – I’ve only read Roth’s Everyman, which is very different from this, but I can see how a younger Roth might remind of this book. No, I can’t really recommend this book in entirety, which is a shame, there were parts where I laughed out loud though and that’s rare.

  6. JackP

    I’ve not read much Amis, but this one was made into a film some time ago with Dexter Fletcher playing the lead role and I seem to recall enjoying it quite a lot. Then again, it was back in 89 or 90 so my memory might be rose-tinting it…

  7. verbivore

    JackP – I didn’t realize this had been made into a film, I’m nearly afraid to look for it. Although, if it was done well, it would be wonderfully funny. Elements of the book seem just perfect for a film, in fact. Thank you for leaving a comment, by the way!

  8. Colleen

    You know, it’s this post that put The Rachel Papers on my radar at all and I just finished it. I can see why you’d be annoyed by it but I loved it! I thought Charlie was the butt of the satire even as he imagined he was looking ironically and satirically at everything around him.

  9. verbivore

    Colleen – This is great that you did end up reading The Rachel Papers, and even better that you liked it. I think my problem is that I’ve read Amis’ more serious fiction and LOVED it – like The House of Meetings and Time’s Arrow, so I didn’t have the patience for his silliness in The Rachel Papers. It was funny – I give him that, and perhaps if I had been in a different frame of mind when i read it, I would have liked it better…

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