Amis’ novels all feature a sort of autobiographical tone, reflecting on his life or characteristics. The character of Mike parodies Amis’ affinity for creating stereotypically masculine protagonists. Unlike The Rachel Papers, Amis doesn’t find autobiographical representation of himself in the character of Mike; however, after writing the novel he came to realise his close connection to suicide, a connection which could have driven the novel’s narrative unintentionally. Night Train absorbs many philosophical theories and incorporates them into its narrative, with references to chaos theory (better known as ‘the butterfly effect’) and cosmology.
The mood of dystopia and noir in Night Train suffuses the novel’s narrative, conveying the cynicism of Mike’s thoughts in her monologues throughout the book: “Suicide is no use to anyone” and “Autopsy is rape too.” The novel seems to be set in Mike’s perpetual nightmare, with no breaks from the dark city streets and homicide terminology used in its harsh and realistic dialogue. In this way, Night Train offers a hopeless narrative that intrigues the reader as it twists and turns towards its bleak conclusion.
Mike is introduced in Night Train with the simple line: “I am a police” – although as the book goes on she becomes more complex as we discover her past. Similarly to a noir such as Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity, Mike opens speaking from near the conclusion of the case, stating that “as of today, April second, I consider the case “solved.”” This line alone reflects the hopelessness of the novel’s narrative as Mike begins to recognise the lack of reason or motive in the case she investigates.
Mike appears to view the world in a surreal way as she notices the conventions of life and the generic narrative that life follows, stating that her mum “could have played the villain in a post-nuclear apocalypse road movie.” Mike reflects on the world poetically and offers a unique perspective on the novel’s universe, referring to Jennifer being found with a gun in her mouth to her “tasting death” – a poetic metaphor that truly shows the grit of Amis’ writing in Night Train.
Amis separates his usual writing style from that which appears in Night Train, as he tempers his usual comic tone to evoke a deeply bleak world – a surprising choice that led the critic Natasha Walter to state that the novel “isn’t funny.” Contrary to this, I would suggest that the playful use of generic convention in Night Train is the source of its humour. The imagery of Mike putting on makeup in the mirror labouredly or the comparison of Tobe to the passing night train are representative of the novel’s cruel absurdity.
Night Train may be unforgiving in narrative, but it also suggests the presence of a higher philosophy. Amis allows Night Train to stay deeply intriguing whilst conveying a noir-esque narrative that reaches no definite conclusion.