Martin Amis’s new novel, “House of Meetings,” tackles the same sobering material his 2002 nonfiction book “Koba the Dread” did: Stalin’s slave labor camps and the atrocities committed by the government during the failed “Soviet experiment.” The novel is everything that misguided earlier book was not. Whereas “Koba” weirdly mixed chilling, secondhand historical accounts of Stalin’s crimes with self-indulgent asides about Mr. Amis’s upper-middle-class life in England, “House of Meetings” is a powerful, unrelenting and deeply affecting performance: a bullet train of a novel that barrels deep into the heart of darkness that was the Soviet gulag and takes the reader along on an unnerving journey into one of history’s most harrowing chapters.Read the rest of the review.
Over at the the New Yorker, Joan Acocella has her say:
Martin Amis’s recent book “Koba the Dread” (2002), a denunciation of Stalin’s regime, was itself denounced by some critics. Why, they asked, had it taken Amis so long, until he was in his fifties, to realize that Stalin’s Soviet Union was not a nice place? Books on the subject had been around for more than a half century. And why, given that fact, did Amis seem to think he was bringing us the news? Why his tone of indignation, as if everyone else were sitting around comfortably, indifferent to Stalin’s crimes, and he alone remembered? Solzhenitsyn might bear a grudge, but Amis?Read the rest of Acocella's review.
Such complaints did not put him off the subject. His new book, “House of Meetings” (Knopf; $23), is also about the Soviet Union under Stalin. It is a novel, however, and fiction, because it is so firmly anchored in the particular—this character, this story—has a way of stifling authorial self-regard. Amis requires such chastening, for, as “Koba” showed, self-regard comes naturally to him. Fortunately, so does fiction. In “House of Meetings” he has returned to it, and much of the book is wonderful.