Money: A Suicide Note
is a 1984 novel by British essayist and screenwriter Martin Amis. Cinematic in style and content, it is loosely based on Amis’s experience writing for the British-American sci-fi film Saturn 3
. The novel delves into the competitive politics of the film industry and is told from the point of view of an advertising executive named John Self who makes a foray into filmmaking in New York City. Self, a stereotypical failed creative who is lazy and overindulgent, is further enabled by the producer who hires him, Fielding Goodney. He falls into a life in which he squanders most of his money on sex and drug use. As Self repeatedly fails in this foreign, fast-moving culture, he slowly learns to navigate it and recognize his faults. For its rich characterization of American urban life, the novel is often considered one of the best works of American literature of the twentieth century.
Fielding Goodney places a call to John Self, inviting him to join his film set in the city. He asks him to help out with the film’s casting and title; Self suggests the title Good Money
, then switches it to Bad Money
, after meeting the individuals that Goodney has selected for the core cast. Each actor seems to have deep, but humorous, issues that extend beyond their acting personas. Ironically
, each cast member is placed in a role that clashes with his or her natural demeanor. For example, an older, tough-looking actor, Lorne Guyland, is cast as a sexual assault victim; the disciplined and exacting Christian Spunk Davis is cast as a drug dealer; and the warm (though neurotic) Caduta Massi, who suffers from body dysmorphia, is cast in a sex scene taking place with her least favorite cast member, Lorne.
As he tries to adjust to life in the city and his career switch, Self is antagonized by a man known as “Frank the Phone.” Embittered by his perception that he was unfairly denied the same success that Self has gained, Frank the Phone stalks him, constantly placing angry calls. Considering him an annoyance but harmless, Self brushes Frank off, even when he accosts him physically, as both are alcoholics with similar behavioral patterns.
In the interim before the start of the filming and production phases, Self goes home to London to spend time with his lower-middle-class father, Barry, who spends his days managing a number of properties. Barry despises Self and goes to absurd lengths to make it known; for example, he sends him bills representing all of the costs of raising him through childhood. In London, Self learns that Selina, one of his girlfriends, has been cheating on him with Ossie Twain. Coincidentally, Self is infatuated with Ossie’s wife, Martina, who lives in New York City. Shocked by this revelation, Self suffers a mental breakdown.
Bitter at Self’s affair, Selina vows to cut short his relationship with Martina. Around this time, all of Self’s credit cards are suddenly deactivated. He asks Goodney what happened and receives a vague response. Then, the cast members lash out at Goodney, having realized that the film was a sham based on a number of loans that have now defaulted. Self realizes that all of the worker agreements he signed off on were simply disguised loan agreements; therefore, he is now responsible for them. He arranges for a meeting in which to confront Goodney; Goodney accepts. Self is shocked to find out that Goodney is actually Frank the Phone. He learns that Frank targeted him after witnessing his inappropriate behavior on his plane to the United States. Desperate for support, he retreats back to England, smuggled through a mob of people upset with him by a hotel employee named Felix. His trip to England is equally tragic: he learns that Barry is not his biological father.
In the novel’s conclusion, Amis breaks the narrative’s fourth wall, including himself in the story. He witnesses Self’s breakdown, and Self responds to his observation with hostility, criticizing his living habits. Amis cautions Self that he is methodically destroying his life. They end up becoming friends, and Self grows to appreciate Amis’s timely criticism.
A novel that is deliberately absurd, employing caricature and hyperbole to flesh out its long-winded characterizations and conflicts, Money
nonetheless points to real social fallacies underlying modern American narratives of fame and commercialism.