Martin Amis. The Rachel Papers

Martin Amis. The Rachel Papers

Martin Amis. The Rachel Papers

Martin Amis is well known on both sides of the Atlantic as the author of Time’s Arrow, London Fields, Einstein’s Monsters, Money, Other People, Success, and Dead Babies. He has contributed to such periodicals as Vanity Fair, The Observer, and The New Statesman. He lives in London. His most recent novel is The Information.

Seven o’clock: Oxford

Seven twenty: London

Quarter to eight: the Costa Brava

Thirty-five minutes past eight: The Rachel Papers, volume one

Nine: the bathroom

Half after: right Charlie

Ten five: the spinney

Twenty-five of eleven: the Low

Eleven ten: The Rachel Papers, volume two

Twenty past: ‘Celia shits’ (the Dean of St Patrick’s)

Twenty to: the dog days

Midnight: coming of age

The Rachel Papers

Seven o’clock: Oxford

My name is Charles Highway, though you wouldn’t think it to look at me. It’s such a rangy, well-travelled, big-cocked name and, to look at, I am none of these. I wear glasses for a start, have done since I was nine. And my medium-length, arseless waistless figure, corrugated ribcage and bandy legs gang up to dispel any hint of aplomb. (On no account, by the way, should this particular model be confused with the springy frames so popular among my contemporaries. They’re quite different. I remember I used to have to fold the bands of my trousers almost double, and bulk out the seats with shirts intended for grown men. I dress more thoughtfully now, though, not so much with taste as with insight.) But I have got one of those fashionable reedy voices, the ones with the habitual ironic twang, excellent for the promotion of oldster unease. And I imagine there’s something oddly daunting about my face, too. It’s angular, yet delicate; thin long nose, wide thin mouth -and the eyes: richly lashed, dark ochre with a twinkle of singed auburn … ah, how inadequate these words seem.

The main thing about me, however, is that I am nineteen years of age, and twenty tomorrow.

Twenty, of course, is the real turning-point. Sixteen, eighteen, twenty-one: these are arbitrary milestones, enabling you only to get arrested for H.P.-payment evasion, get married, buggered, executed, and so on: external things. – Naturally, one avoids like the plague such mischievous doctrines as ‘you’re as young as you feel,’ which have doubtless resulted in so many trim fifty-year-olds flopping down dead in their tracksuits, haggard hippies checking out on overdoses, precarious queers getting their caps and crowns stomped in by bestial hitch-hikers. Twenty may not be the start of maturity but, in all conscience, it’s the end of youth.

To achieve, at once, dramatic edge and thematic symmetry I elect to place my time of birth on the stroke of midnight. In fact, mother’s was a prolix and generally rather inelegant parturition; she went into labour about now (i.e., about seven p.m., December 5th, twenty years ago), not to come out of it again until past twelve, the result being a moist four-pound waif that had to be taken to hospital for a fortnight’s priming. My father had intended – Christ knows why – to watch the whole thing, but got browned off after a couple of hours. I have long been sure that there is great significance in this anecdote, although I have never been able to track it down. Perhaps I’ll find the answer at the moment at which, two decades earlier, I first sniffed the air.

I confess that I’ve been looking forward to tonight for months. I thought when Rachel turned up about half an hour ago that she was going to ruin it all, but she left in time. I need to make the transition decorously, officially, and to re-experience the tail-end of my youth. Because something has definitely happened to me, and I’m very keen to know what it is. So: if I run through, let’s say, the last three months, and if I try to sort out all my precocity and childishness, my sixth-form cleverness and fifth-form nastiness, all the self-consciousness and self-disgust and self-infatuation and self- … you name it, perhaps I’ll be able to locate my hamartia and see what kind of grownup I shall make. Or not, as the case may be. Anyway, it ought to be good fun.

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Categories: Amis, Martin