The Rachel Papers by Martin Amis

18th July 2011

The best parts of The Rachel Papers:

“As with most people who pass for sensitive, obsessive types, I simply can’t get enough of things to get worked up about — an interest.”

“On the way out I heart-rendingly bought Rachel a 3p postcard of Blake’s Ghost of a Flea, offering it to her with boyish diffidence. She (quite rightly) kissed me on the cheek…”

“I experienced thrilling self-pity. ‘What will that mind of yours get up to next? I said, recognizing the self-congratulation behind this thought and the self-congratulation behind that recognition and the self-congratulation behind recognizing that recognition.
Steady on. What’s so great about going mad?
But even that was pretty arresting. Even that, come on now, was a pretty arresting thing for a nineteen-year-old boy to have thought.”

“‘I couldn’t agree more, Sir Herbert, though I confess I’ve never looked at it from quite that angle… The so-called new philosophy, ‘permissiveness’ if you like, seen from the right perspetive, is only a new puritanism, whereby you’re accused of being repressed or unenlightened if you happen to object to infidelity, promiscuity, and so on. You’re not allowed to mind anything any more, and so you end up denying your instincts again — moderate possessiveness, say, or moral scrupulousness — just as the puritans would have you deny the opposite instincts. Both codes are reductive, and therefore equally unrelated to how people feel: so fucking give me a scholarship,’ or words to that effect.”

“I considered suicide, though not in my worst moments. The bottle of pills. The note: ‘No hard feelings, everyone, but I’ve thought about it and it’s just not on, is it? It’s nearly on, but not quite. No? Anyway, all the best. -C'”

Vocab list:

prolix – Unduly prolonged
hamartia – tragic flaw
cor – a unit of measure of capacity
etoliated – pale
detumescence – subsidence of swelling or an erection
atavistic – recurrence of a past mannerism
emetic – an agent that induces vomiting
blacking – subject to boycott
donnish – relating to a university don
equably – marked by lack of variation
post-prandial – after meal
skirling – emit a shrill tone
imprecation – curse
adamantine – unyielding
fecund – intellectually productive
viva – used to express goodwill or approval
mendacious – deceptive
borstal – reformatory
spinney – a small wood with undergrowth
plus-fours – loose sports knickers made four inches longer than conventional knickers
prelapsarian – before the fall of man
invigilate – supervise students at examination

10 thoughts on “The Rachel Papers by Martin Amis

  1. Michele

    I put this on my short list – especially because of the word prelapsarian. xoxo michele

    Oh man, I was all about detumescence. Who knew? -M

  2. Sarah

    Good vocab list but I didn’t really like the movie much and I’m pretty sure I read the book and didn’t like it either… I think the fact that I can’t really remember it says it all. Amis is a good writer, I just didn’t connect to the characters at all.


    I’ve read a lot of Amis, and his subject matter often isn’t for me either. He’s just such a damn good writer, I keep coming back thinking maybe this one? This one? So far Rachel Papers and some of his non fiction have been satisfying. -M

  3. Nance

    Pardon me for saying so, but that is a terrible definition for “atavistic.” Most times–and I admit to not knowing its context, obviously–it’s used to mean “primitive” or in reference to a sort of return to a more aboriginal state. For example, “When Sidra saw Owen’s bulging biceps and strong forearms, her eyes gleamed atavistically.”

  4. The Woman Formerly Known as Beautiful

    OOoooooh sweet mystery of life at last I’ve found yoooouuu!

    Why haven’t I read this herculean wordsmith prior? Has my literary lust left me for the People Magazines in the 15 item checkout stands? AND there was a movie? Have I been living in a pit of mediocrity? I’m ordering this book forth with!

  5. Kristin

    I haven’t read this one yet, but his book Money is one of my favorite books of all time. Have you read Lucky Jim by his father, Kingsley Amis? Definitely a contender for funniest book ever written.

  6. rebecca

    London Fields was the basis of my Master’s thesis soooooo many moons ago. I heart Martin Amis, literary exhibitionist that he is.

  7. sarawr

    Excellent list, but I agree with the previous quibble over “atavistic.” Atavism is sort of necessarily archetypal; it’s not an internal loop so much as a return to a primitive state we know without necessarily experiencing.

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