London Fields by Martin Amis (Jonathan Cape) In some novels, it's said that the setting - usually a city - feels like an extra character, sometimes the most satisfying one. In Martin Amis' London Fields, the setting feels like the very fabric of the novel. One of the most fascinating explorations of fictional geography in literature, London Fields is narrated by American writer Sam Young and supposedly based on real events, some of which unfold as Sam, who is terminally ill, tells the story. They concern hyper-sexual, predatory 'murderee' Nicola Six, who knows the date and circumstances of her own death; the monstrous, magnificent Keith Talent, a small-time criminal and aspiring professional darts player whom Nicola, and the story, line up as her murderer; and Guy Clinch, a wealthy, tender-hearted naif who proves infinitely exploitable. Just as no one in the book is what they seem to be, and just as the book itself is masquerading as something it isn't - a work of fact based on real-life events simply observed by the narrator, rather than a multi-layered fictional narrative - so the London of the book is a fictionalised place masquerading as a real one. The story takes place on the other side of the city from the real-life London Fields, an unstable metaphor for the unreliable narrator's uncertain destiny. Real London and Amis' fictionalised rendering of it coexist in a weird kind of jarring harmony. The characters are all fighting for control of the narrative. At different levels, Nicola, Sam and Amis are all in command of the story, and the result is deeply disorientating. London is also, as it often is in Amis' work, a character, a greasy physical presence that mirrors the fin-de-siecle anomie of the characters. It's the same Notting Hill/Westbourne Park/North Kensington area that crops up constantly in his novels, a place where anyone can meet and mingle, and anything can happen. Sam sums the place up: 'Things have changed, things have stayed the same. London's pub aura, that's certainly intensified: the smoke and the builders' sand and dust, the toilet tang, the streets like a terrible carpet.' The usual anti-Amis gripes all apply. The layers of narrative irony aren't quite enough to distance the authorial voice from some of the more unpalatable opinions, particularly on matters of race and gender. And there's always the thing that divides people about Amis: his mouth-manglingly clever, stunningly sinuous prose. Depending on your viewpoint, it's either pretentiously literary or one of the most refreshing, pitch-perfect writing styles of the 20th century. Early on, Sam sees London from the sky, 'as taut and meticulous as a cobweb'. The joy of this cobweb is that we're never sure who's at the centre pulling the strings.