Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Night Train Arrives Late

Nihilism tastes bad to me, and love's topping doesn't make it any sweeter.

Martin Amis' Night Train tracks a heroine, a deep-voiced, incredibly sensitive, female cop, who works around mean, unhappy men. Amis' heroine speaks in first person as she unravels the mystery of the death of one of her sort-of friends. That friend was a beautiful, let me stress that she was breathtakingly beautiful, brilliant, but depressed young woman, who dies by gunshot to the head in the book's opening scenes. She speaks in the second person.

It seems that these two disparate creations are yoked to one another, as the heroine investigates who killed the beauty. Eventually (it's not a huge suprise), you find out that the beauty offed herself. Why? Because the world is such and ugly place, you're better being part of it, even if that means you're an alcoholic cop. Perfection and sophistication can't save you. Even perfection itself is mortal. But, beauty leaves a roadmap for her investigator. Being inexorably tied to the cop, she lays a roadmap leading to her killer: herself.

Why would a brilliant, beautiful woman, with no apparent problems kill herself? This was the toughest part of the story for me to feel comfortable with. She kills herself because she can. She's sad because there isn't anything out there. Her family doesn't provide her comfort and can't sheild her from nothingness, from death itself. The world has nothing to offer her (so she thinks). It holds no secrets, no mystery, no pot 'o gold at the end. She's a physicist for whom there are no mathmatical questions she can't answer. She starts making up the numbers to her experiments, perhaps because everything is too predictable to her. There's simply no point to continuing, since the end is the same. Whether she meets her end 90 years from now, or at the barrel of a gun, "Black holes mean oblivion. Mean death."

Yuck. How sad. The whole book exudes sadness, grief. The only glimmer of hope is that the heroine wrestles with oblivion and wins. It's a small triumph if you ask me, because she takes no happiness in the defeat.

This creates a paradox: the dead girl's love and care which leads her to leave clues for the detective is what saves the detective from devaluing human life. The dead girl kills herself. Amis in the heroines first person, metallic voice says "Suicide is the night train...speeding your way into darkness...this train takes you into the night, and leaves you there" except that isn't what the beauty's death does. It sheds light on everything. It wasn't without purpose, at least to the heroine. And what does the beauty care, she's dead. Her life and her death must have had some purpose, or she would have left clues for the heroine to discover. She knew her death would provide insights into life. Love, something which nihilism says does exist, is what drives her to care.

It's the Neitzche effect on a detective novel. God is dead. Don't think about the afterlife. Think about the now. Be earthly. Be like the heroine. Worship no absolute, enjoy the grit. God, the beauty, perfection, afterlife, it can't save you and it can't offer you anything earthy (EXCEPT HERE IT INSPIRES THE HEROINE TO SAVOR LIFE). Don't look for life's purpose, you wont find one, and, if you do, then you're just lying to yourself, trying to make yourself feel better by clasping tightly to the chimeric rags of a ghost.

I'm not a nihilist if that isn't obvious already. I get it, but I just don't agree, nor do I like it. Nihilism just doesn't sit well with my senses. The book was well-written. I enjoyed it (in a twisted way), but I just don't like the suicide theory that drives this Night Train.


Larissa said...

whatever. Read The Rachel Papers; It's all about 'tang. It's really damn funny. and totally gross, too. Not at all nihilistic (well, except in that teenage way--the narrator's a 19 year-old--that we're not supposed to take seriously anyway. and then read his essays!

cube said...

I'm of two minds about this book. It sounds like a depressing read, but not if you take the approach that life is precious despite its imperfections. I'm intrigued by the effect of physics to the story. Determinism gone awry, to say the least.