It's life, innit? But not as we know it
FICTION:Martin Amis is under attack again for his latest book, about a yobbish lottery winner. Maybe he should have spent more time on the streets before writing it
Lionel Asbo: State of England By Martin Amis Cape, 276pp. £18.99
SO BIG LIONEL ASBO’S only gone and won the national lottery, just 50p short of £140 million. Mind you, he’s in the nick, again, but now he can buy his way out and set off on a deranged spending spree, all excess and instant celebrity. It could have happened to a nicer bloke, but that’s life, innit?
Martin Amis revisits the darker regions of the yob culture that so intrigues him in his 13th novel, one that appears to be attracting reviews that read more like obituaries to his talent. At his best, Amis is a vibrantly funny literary stylist, and, thin plot aside, the major weakness of this novel – which is nowhere near as bad as Yellow Dog (2003) and is better than his autobiographical 1970s sex romp The Pregnant Widow (2010) – is that it simply is not funny, certainly not Amis funny.
Lionel Asbo – in Britain, Asbo stands for antisocial behaviour order – never quite joins the ranks of the great Amis lowlifes, such as Little Keith from Dead Babies (1975), John Self from Money (1984) – which remains, along with The Information (1995), Amis’s finest work to date – or Keith Talent from London Fields (1989). They are memorable social misbegottens as only Amis could draw them. Keith Talent “had no time for the gym, the fancy restaurant, the buxom bestseller, the foreign holiday. He had never taken any exercise (unless you counted burgling, running away, and getting beaten up.) . . . and he had never been out of London. Except once. When he went to America . . .” Those telling ellipses are Amis’s. Lionel Asbo is described as “a great white shape, leaning on the open door with his brow pressed to his raised wrist, panting huskily, and giving off a faint grey steam in his purple singlet (the lift was misbehaving, and the flat was on the 33rd floor – but then again Lionel could give off steam while dozing in bed on a quiet afternoon). Under his arm he was carrying a consignment of lager. Two dozen, covered in polythene. Brand: Cobra.”
Lionel, we are also informed, resembles the footballer Wayne Rooney. Here’s hoping Rooney has a sense of humour – he will need it if he reads this.
At 21, and already battered-looking because of his aggressive approach to everything that moves, Lionel is an uncle to Desmond Pepperdine, whose mother was the now deceased Cilla and whose father is absent. Lionel and Cilla are the children of Grace, single mother extraordinaire (in that she had given birth to seven children, fathered by a variety of men, by the age of 19). As the action opens, Grace is 39 and sufficiently game, desperate or both to have initiated a sexual relationship with 15-year-old Des. He, though not quite complaining, is seeking advice from a newspaper agony aunt. The boy also lives in fear of Uncle Lionel finding out that he is involved with his gran, Lionel’s mother.