Lionel Asbo by Martin Amis – review | Books | The GuardianI n the cover photo on the back inside flap of Lionel Asbo: State of England , the book's haughty scribe "Martin Amis is the author of two collections of stories, six works of non-fiction and 12 previous novels The pavement appears moist from a sudden rainstorm. Has Amis been drenched in the downpour on his way to the photo-shoot? Is that expensive grey suit peppered with damp? The trademark tousled mane weighted by droplets, only recently — and impatiently — combed aside before he sits at a cafe table and glances into the melee?
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Last time I enjoyed an extended conversation with Martin Amis, we ended up arguing about the late John Updike. The roots of this brisk little dispute lay in Updike's obituary notices. These, I proposed, had been far less kind to the deceased's final novels than the reviews — many written by the same people — while he lived. Hadn't this collective punch-pulling been rather odd? Amis, who had written one of these obituary notices himself, fixed me with a look of awful gravity and declared that the cardinal rule of book reviewing was that you didn't "shit on people who had given you pleasure". I experienced the fluttering sensation, common to all critics ushered into the presence of a Great Writer whose output they have ceased to esteem, that this no doubt well-intentioned remark was meant for me.
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Although he is nowadays associated with American rhythms and American women and American real estate, and has a taste for writers with names such as Saul and Kurt and Don and Elmore, the most ambitious, seductive and, at 62, promising English novelist of his generation started off as a neo-Dickensian. He insists on being romantic, melodramatic, unrepresentational like his trashier contemporaries and will not be adult, introspective, mimetic like the major Victorians. The last-act reunion of Desmond and Dawn comes after an illness and a separation. Long train journeys take the place of long sea voyages. But all the money and fame and splendour make Lionel feel numb. There are scenes set in a courtroom and a remand prison.