So why read it then? Well, my old English teacher at school told me the hardest trick in literature would be to create the character of a German prison guard during WW2 and evoke sympathy for him. Yet that's precisely what Amis has done with character of Angelus Thomsen, a well-connected intellectual dosser, who in other eras would have been the middle manager in a multinational. Instead, at this time of peculiar insanity, he goes along like so many of his peers with the hideous programme of human extermination, knowing that to oppose it would culminate in certain and probably brutal death.
Amis is no apologist for Thomsen. Using a series of narrators he unpicks the stitching which holds together this Nazi House of Horror. There's Paul Doll, the comical, impotent wife-beater who as a senior officer has the job of overseeing the new arrrivals; and Szmul, the Jewish "Sonder" chosen to pick over and fillet the belongings of those who are gassed. His self-loathing is matched only by his desire to survive.
For all its death and destruction, this is a curiously romantic novel - though perhaps not in a way that Mills and Boon would recognise - and not without humour either. Amis plays on our Anglo amusement with the harshness of the German language by throwing in a welter of near unpronounceable compounds; and there's a sadistic female prison guard whose porn fantasy persona is undercut by her evident lunacy.
Make no mistake - at times The Zone Of Interest is almost overwhelmingly gruelling; but the fear and terror are offset by a sharp satirical edge. We laugh in recognition and sympathy as men commissioned to slaughter their fellow human beings come up against the conflicting demands of Nazi bureaucracy - prisoners need precious food and warmth if they are to be kept working, but if you kill them to save money, you quickly need another supply of workers who have to be fed and kept warm. The madness - literal and metaphorical - of the Final Solution is exposed.
And at the edges of this crazy world, there are wives, children, servants - some more complicit than others - who continue with their "ordinary" lives.
Amis tried something similar in 2003 with Time's Arrow - this is a scab he just can't stop picking - but The Zone Of Interest is broader in its scope and sympathies. It's a tough, but essential read. Just don't leave it at your bedside.