Lionel Asbo: State Of England
- Publication Date:
- 07 June 2012
- Modern & Contemporary
Showing 1-4 out of 4 reviews.
This is a book about violence, celebrity and class in England. It has a deceptively simple tone and a deliberately old fashioned story-book sense to it. Amis uses his trademark structural foreshadowing more subtly and more successfully here. The Asbo-Threnody nexus of ignorance, violence and corruption is nicely balanced against the Desie-Dawny nexus of peaceful happy domesticity.
I liked this far more than I expected ... it was horrible but drew me in, and so much wit and dark humour. The ending also moved and surprised me ... very clever, very English ... made me homesick in an hilariously bleak kind of way!
The writing is excellent and energetic. The title character, Lionel Asbo, is a somewhat clichéd British thug who is a ruthless and brutally violent criminal but also has his own odd sort of moral compass and intelligence. But Lionel Asbo is also a living, breathing, person--nearly as much alive as any contemporary author is able to conjure. And his counterpoint, his orphan nephew and adopted son Des, who is more interested in learning than crime and disappoints his uncle by using his computer for things other than porn, makes for an effective counterpoint. The plot is nothing to brag about, and some of it is painfully clichéd, but it still stays with you in a powerful way that most books do not.Lionel Abso is a resident of a the fictional London borough of Diston. He is the seventh of seven children (and shares a father with the first, and only with the first). He is a debt collector, thief, and ruffian--aided by two dogs fed a diet of Tabasco Sauce and alcohol. He is raising his nephew Des. The first hundred or so pages is their normal lives together, plus Des's affair with his grandmother (and the fact that his grandmother is in her late thirties doesn't make it any better), and the tension that runs through the entire book of whether Lionel will figure it out.Then about a quarter of the way through Lionel wins 140 million pounds in the lottery, and as wastefully as he starts blowing through it he accumulates money even more quickly with his investments, ending up with what the book hints is billions. He moves from hotel suite to hotel suite, buys himself a garish estate, garish cars, a garish footballers wife girlfriend, and the rest.Some of the scenes are pretty standard, although Amis executes many of them hilariously (a bruising fight between Lionel and a lobster, as he attempts to deshell and eat it, for example). Others are completely unique, like what Lionel portrays as his touching love for his "Mum," who he "thoughtfully" puts away in an old age home, oblivious to Des's pointing out that she's only about forty. All of which comes together in an vicious, biting indictment of both poverty and wealth, of Diston and of the amoral, pointlessness of their attempts to find fun and meaning.
I have always believed that Martin Amis is capable of a great novel. I have always feared that despite having more talent than his father Kingsley that he would never surpass his ouvre. This latest does nothing to adjust those opinions. Every character in this odd novel of "the underclass" is recognisable but only recognisable from the pages of the yellow trash newspaper the Daily Mail. There are no characters, there are only stereotypes: dole scum, single mums, tower block dwellers. Caricatures in fact. Amiss clearly knows nothing about the working classes - he may see them from his posh abode but he knows them not at all. This is insulting, condescending nonsense of the worst stripe. Well written, as usual, but nonsense and not in the Edward Lear sense. Nasty, know nothing nonsense. If this is the best he can do these days he should pack it in and admit that he will never amount to a great novellist.
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