Martin Amis' 1995 novel. Gwyn Barry turns 40; and a day later, so does his "best friend", Richard Tully. The difference between them is that Richard's a failure, while Gwyn's rich, handsome, charming, married into the aristocracy, and most inexplicably of all (in his friend's opinion), a famous and successful author. Once upon a time, Richard himself was a promising writer, but since then nobody's been remotely interested in publishing any of his books. Could be he's not really a novelist anymore. And if he's not a novelist, he's damned if he can understand how anybody could believe that that charlatan Gwyn Barry is one. Gwyn's written a couple of bland utopian tomes which somehow have gotten on the bestseller list, so he does an interview tour of the USA throughout which he's feted like a visionary thinker, and some nutters even want to give him a sort of genius grant called the Profundity Requital, by which he'll be showered with free money for the term of his natural life. Richard's eaten through with hate and professional jealousy. He sets out to destroy Gwyn's life.

Hatred of Gwyn has permeated every corner of Richard's existence that he seems permanently shrouded in angst. He's so oblivious to everything outside his war of nerves with his unsuspecting rival that he can't see it's poisoning the only meaningful thing he's got left: his relationship with his wife and children. Being angst-ridden means agonizing over mortality and neglect and marriage and sunsets and literary criticism and sad dreams, and you do this in a sub-Scott Fitzgeraldian way but more elegiac and verbose. It's what happens when you're an artist and depressed and 40 years old.

That's how old Richard is, but the way his various aches and pains and hair loss are described, you'd suppose he's twice that age. Then you guess that Richard's decrepitude is due to his smoking and drinking like there's no tomorrow. But maybe it's just Martin Amis projecting his own worries about physical deterioration: practically the first thing he did with that several-hundred-thousand-pounds payout he got for this book from his new publisher (he almost simultaneously traded in his wife, agent and publisher for fresher versions) was to get his teeth fixed by some state-of-the-art process involving titanium. (Smooth-faced condescending shit Gwyn on the other hand has a full head of silvery yet boyish hair, is tanned and healthy, and seems half his age.)

This book is packed with a ton of ideas about life and the way we live now. It also samples in passing the thoughts, words and deeds of just who it is who's living in today's world--including vanity publishers, newspaper columnists, black and white working- and lower-middle-class types, cartoon characters, children, readers and reviewers. This mass of detail may be intended to enhance the Richard-Gwyn conflict and give it extra dimension, but it just means that reading The Information is, at times, like trudging through thick mud in a heavy fog and hoping that solid ground and a well-defined path turn up soon. Instead, one suddenly trips over clumsy sections of prose musing on the universe, the age of the sun, the speed of sound; and Amis himself even enters the story as a character and self-consciously discusses distancing devices--the kind of stuff that turns up in first novels by university undergraduates with literary pretensions.

Worse, the abrupt ending--after Richard plans a truly demented and shortsighted way to discredit Gwyn--is so unsatisfactory that it's almost as if somebody held Amis hostage and forced him to finish this 500-page opus as quickly as possible.

But then, perhaps all of this is meant to be that way because all of it is itself part of a larger, cleverer and deeply ironic device. The whole point of The Information may be that the way we live now, our capacity for intelligent discernment has deteriorated to such an extent that we're ready to claim almost any piece of rubbish as a dramatically exciting breakthrough that sets new standards in the field of excellence.

The Information is first and foremost a book about mid-life, and this is clearly shown through how Amis has chosen to render his protagonist, Richard Tull. In an interview, Amis once quoted Milan Kundera, saying "'We're children all our lives because we have to learn a new set of rules every ten years.' Which is a good remark. But I think that the real new set of rules is when you hit forty. All of what you know up until then is of no use, and you have to start from scratch." (1996).

The title of the novel can be interpreted in two distinct ways: the information is sometimes used in a general sense as a reference to all the bad news a person must absorb during his or her lifetime, especially during their middle age. This includes births, marriages, the death of one's parents, divorce, and the like. When even more specifically related to Richard Tull, the information refers to Richard's unescapable realisation that his death is unavoidable. Richard states his crisis in a fairly rational manner on page 152: "[I]t wasn't his fault-- it was death's fault. Every sensitive man was allowed a midlife crisis: when you found out for sure that you were going to die, then you ought to have one. If you don't have a midlife crisis, then that's a crisis."

Forty year-old Richard's constant fear of death and the unknown cause him to exist in a permanent state of alarm. This is intrinsically linked to Richard's battle against significance, against his feeling of being the cliched worthless speck amid an infinite void. In a 1996 interview, Amis summed up Richard's fears in a few blunt words: "Nothing is the void we come from and return to. You're dead for a lot longer than you're alive." This is the information, which comes to Richard at night. After suffering through countless nights of sobbing in his sleep, Richard hopes the day will bring him a brief respite from his dark thoughts. His cheerless attitude throughout the novel, however, shows that the information is not so easily evaded.

As a result of his constant panic and paranoia, Richard begins developing an obsession with smell, while additionally experiencing olfactory hallucinations. When his son Marco unintentionally implies that Richard smells of poo during the punchline to a knock-knock joke, a devastated Richard calls his puzzled son into his study to discuss the perceived slight. Richard's paranoia increases when his drinking buddies nickname him "anosmia", which is actually due to his ability to define the condition, not a suggestion that he suffers from it. He begins to bathe obsessively, taking long baths at least twice a day. Richard becomes distraught when considering the nature of his imagined stench, thinking it to be the reek of his impending death:

Half the time, accordingly, in necromode, he thought he was smelling his own death, nosing it, getting wind of it. And the other half (this was copromode) he thought it all made perfect sense: that if you looked like shit, and felt like shit, and behaved like shit, then pretty soon you were going to smell like shit. For Richard knew he was going to hell: it was just a question of which circle. (173).

This fear of death is the single most dominant aspect of Tull's character, and is the basis for most of his other thematically illustrative character traits. One such trait includes Richard's chronic tendancy to fail at everything. The most disappointing of these failures is Richard's failure at writing, the trade to which he has devoted forty years of his life. Richard used to be better at everything than his former best friend, Gwyn Barry. While Richard's "success" was questionable, he was relatively successful in comparison to Gwyn, which was good enough for him. Now that Gwyn is an internationally bestselling author, his success is torturous for Richard. Even worse is the fact that even Gwyn's own wife admits that he "can't write for toffee" (200), but despite their poor quality, Gwyn's novels are enormously successful. Richard's bitterness and contempt for Gwyn and his readers is evident in the following syllogism which Richard constructs on page 126:

A. Gwyn's trex was loved by the world; his trex was universal.
B. The world loved trex; the world was trex.
C. Better use the world, in that case; better have Gwyn picked on by something his own size....

Richard figures that if Gwyn writes trash, and the world devours his trash, then the entire world must logically be trash as well. This is another source of torment for Richard, as he desperately yearns for approval from others. He wants glowing reviews from a vast readership in order to compensate for the years of failure, and to secure literary immortality comparable to that of Shakespeare or Homer.

Richard's own novels are described on the preceeding page as an attempt at Joycean genius. The problem is that, understandably, the world finds little of interest in Richard's gigantic tomes of knowledge:

He wasn't trying to write talent novels. He was trying to write genius novels, like Joyce. Joyce was the best yet at genius novels, and even he was a drag about half the time. Richard, arguably, was a drag all the time...Richard was too proud and too lazy and--in a way-- too clever and too nuts to write talent novels. For instance, the thought of getting a character out of the house and across town to somewhere else made him go vague with exhaustion...(125).

The basal cause of Richard's envy is the fact that Gwyn is ensured immortality, wheras Richard is a failure who has already wasted forty years of his life, and will surely be forgotten as soon as he is dead. Feeling that Gwyn is unworthy of admiration and guaranteed immortality, Richard, in the words of the author, "...wants to do to Gwyn what Gwyn has done to him. He wants to assassinate his sleep. He wants to inform the sleeping man; an I for an I." (64). Richard wants to "inform" Gwyn so that he will cry in his sleep the same way Richard himself does. By destroying him, Richard, even if he is unable to secure immortality for himself, is at least able to take it away from the undeserving Gwyn Barry.

The dark humour in this is that while the root of Richard's jealously is his desperation at his failure in life, his attempts to destroy Gwyn are equally plagued by failure. In one instance, Richard hires a hit man to give Gwyn a thrashing. Richard takes Gwyn to a bar in order to fill his bladder with alcohol, and then brings him to a movie theatre where the hired delinquent waits in the bathroom. When Gwyn leaves partway through the feature and does not return, Richard heads to the bathroom to look for him. Instead of Gwyn, it is Richard who is ambushed by the felon in the bathroom, as it turns out Gwyn had left the theatre to go outside for some air. This incident serves to increase Richard's anger and bolster his determination, though ultimately setting him up for yet more failure.

Richard's preoccupations with his mortality and his failures, along with his frustration over Gwyn's success, all have a devastatingly cyclical effect on him. These obsessions limit the attention he is able to devote to the lone bright spot in his life-- his wife and children-- while also driving Richard to drink. The drinking, in turn, causes him to hardly notice or care about how he has neglected his family Richard's habitual overindulgence and its cyclical nature is documented by Amis in the second chapter: "These days he smoked and drank largely to solace himself for what smoking and drinking had done to him-- but smoking and drinking had done a lot to him so he smoked and drank a lot." (30). To further complicate matters, Richard struggles with impotency in his marital bed, as he does in his daily life.

A turning point for Richard occurs on page 29: when his son Marco accidentally breaks a table, an irate Richard strides into the room and slaps his son across the face While Marco bears the brunt of his father's anger, it is not on account of the broken table-- it is later revealed that Gwyn Barry's novel Amelior had entered the bestseller list that morning, at number nine. This is the day on which Richard's patience deserts him, never to return in its original form. It also marks the beginning of the fantastic growth of Richard's obsession with Gwyn, which shortly overtakes his devotion to his family. As Richard's fatherly patience gives way to apathy, his understanding of his children becomes basically non-existant. This parallels the deterioration of Richard's relationship with his wife, Gina. While Amis is sometimes criticised as being misogynistic for his weakly depicted female characters, in Gina Tull's case this is merely a reflection of Richard's own lack of understanding of her character.

For the most part, Richard has dissociated himself from his wife. He suspects she may be having an affair--which she is-- but he feels he has lost the right to stop her from doing so. While Richard is mildly aware of Gina's dissatisfaction with their marriage, he is unable to bring himself to do anything about it. This nagging awareness Richard feels is demonstrated by his coining the term batch (which he uses to described the reek of bachelorhood) in reference to himself.

Despite his awareness, Richard has resigned himself to this pitiable co-habitation. Richard repeatedly makes references to Gina leaving him, but due to his preoccupation with Gwyn and his alcohol-induced numbness, he seems to accept the prospect of their eventual divorce as inevitable. The following quotation is an example of one such reference, whiel also linking Richard's failure as a husband to his failure as a writer: "It was all right. Gina was no longer a writer's wife because he was no longer a writer. He didn't think she was going to leave him: yet. Together they had joined the great community of the exhausted." (306).

Richard's alcohol abuse, the crutch upon which he relies to get through his life, has damaged Richard to the point that he can no longer enjoy the life that he clings to so desparately. While Richard drinks for solace, it is the alcohol that creates even more reason for him to need solacing, such as his deteriorating relationship with his family, and his inability to author a readable novel.

The Information by Martin Amis
"Martin Amis is Getting Old and Wants to Talk About It." Maclean's Vol. 112 No. 37
"Misinformed by the Information." The Independent, March 1995.

The Information (2011) by James Gleick is a nonfiction book that covers the major developments in communications engineering leading to the synthesis of information theory by Claude Shannon in the 20th century. Gleick presents an intriguing overview of early modes of communication such as African
talking drums which mimics the syllabary of tribal spoken languages over long distances, and the Paris telegraph network where messages were sent in semaphore fashion between windmill-like towers.  The rough details on information theory are presented in such historical contexts.  Gleick also presents the history of advancements in computer technology by Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace, Alan Turing and John von Neumann which enabled and shaped the modern communications infrastructure which Shannon's work as an engineer addressed.  In the last three chapters, Gleick tries to show the impact of information theory on our (layman's) world (e.g. Wikipedia) and scientific fields not directly related to communications (although the chapter on genetics fails to connect biological sequence analysis specifically with Shannon entropy).

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