Lionel Asbo: State of England

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Amis is the daddy — something his own daddy never really was much as Martin persists in believing otherwise. Amis is the don. And anyone who has read Sophocles or Freud knows that while we all love our dads, we all still harbour a deep, secret urge to kill them. And then to have sex with our nans. In the opening chapter of Lionel Asbo , the young hero, Desmond Pepperdine, mixed-race year-old resident of Diston Town or "Town" "Diston — a world of italics and exclamation marks", part of "the great world city" writes a letter to an agony aunt about his incestuous relationship with his nan, Grace.

Des's mother, Cilla, is dead.

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Des lives in a tower block with his Uncle Lionel, a psychotically violent local hoodlum, "a kind of anti-dad, the counterfather", a man with a genius for "disseminating tension", a man who has made stupidity into an art form "Why did he work at being stupid? Des, by contrast, has a gentle and persistent intelligence.


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The plot is disarmingly uncomplicated. If Lionel finds out that Des has slept with his mother, he will kill him. But of course he probably won't find out at least we sincerely hope he won't find out , not for odd pages, and in the meantime he will win millions on the lotto and become ever more powerful, more wonderful, more hilarious, more disgusting, more visceral and more magnified. He will spew out his extraordinary vitality and violence and better still charm and ugly, irrepressible genius into every urgent, thuggish chapter.

And it will be filthy and endlessly inventive, and the language and the imagery will fizz and glow in a way that only Amis — at his very best, his most carefully careless — fizzes and glows. This is both a paean to and an attack on London:. It is a masterclass in the strange variability of modern language and diction. Amis can do the accents.

In fact he can do them so well, so effortlessly, that he undoes some of them. He performs guerilla surgery on them — nips and tucks — then sews them back together again.

And he never pauses for breath. The novel comes at you and comes at you and keeps on coming. It never flags. Is this an offensive book? Hell, yes. But then maybe modern England needs offending. Is this a readable book? Lionel, a twentysomething petty criminal, low-end debt collector and all-round pavement scourge down in a part of the East End boondocks Amis has re-christened "Diston", is the chalk to a cheese furnished by his year-old mixed-race nephew, Des Pepperdine.

The gulf that separates them is that of the deep romantic chasm and the austere classical cliff: the one polite, tolerant, studious and, as Lionel has effectively brought him up, beholden; the other violent, self-aware and warped. Between them lies a secret, which is that Des has recently been seduced by his Beatle-loving year-old grandmother, Grace. What will Lionel do to himself with the money; and what will he do to Des if he finds out about his errant mum? Money, Amis's undisputed masterpiece from , had some immensely prescient things to say, or imply, about nascent celebrity-cum-tabloid culture and its effects on individual and collective intelligence.

This is Lionel Asbo's theme, 28 years later. Yet the materials and the approach — necessarily, Amis would argue — are a whole lot cruder. Ghastly but intermittently like all Amis hero-villains lovable, Lionel is a clever man who ought to know better but chooses not to, and is, we infer, encouraged by the world he inhabits.

His drawback as a character is that his utterances are so over-loaded with satirical freight "Why aren't you out smashing windows? John Self's great virtue was that the qualities Amis wanted you to detect, to deplore or merely be amused by, arrived by stealth. The ghosts continue to gibber and fret. The light fun poked at Lionel's tabloid of choice, the Daily Sport-inspired Morning Lark, goes back as least as far as London Fields, while the whole "High IQ moron" line about Lionel's disavowal of his intellect was first given an airing in Yellow Dog.

None of this would matter quite so much, perhaps, if the novel weren't so obviously located in an England that reveals itself to be a fair bit older than the one it affects to describe, rife with glimpses of teenagers taking their "O levels" an exam abolished in , sitting their Plus an impossibility in "Diston" and knocking up "four distinctions" in their A Levels. Yet, however detached our man may now appear, however suspect his satirical approximations of footballers' names may have become London Fields had "Sylvester Dragon" and "Lee Fredge"; Lionel's mate "Brent Medwin" is way off the pace , this is still a Martin Amis novel, full of tense, fugitive moments where the boy indisputably cuts it.

Soft targets they may be, but the scenes in which Lionel plights his troth with a prime piece of celebrity arm-candy named Threnody — Katie Price has a walk-on as her far more cunning rival, Danube — had me roaring with laughter. In the end, one notes an odd, and again ancestral, circularity. The enduring comic style forged by Kingsley Amis was essentially collaborative, the result of that thousand-page teasing correspondence with Philip Larkin, endlessly refined before it sprang, apparently fully-formed, onto the pages of Lucky Jim.

‘Lionel Asbo,’ by Martin Amis - The New York Times

By chance, Richard Bradford's best chapters turned on the similar compact that Amis junior established with the late Christopher Hitchens to whom this book is dedicated during their mids tenure on the New Statesman. It is no disrespect to Martin Amis - on whom, to return to the injunction of the opening paragraph, I am determined not to shit - to say that this style, so effective in its s heyday, is showing its age.

If one of the things which rises from Lionel Asbo is the sense of a terrific disgust with the modern world, then another is a feeling of profound weariness. The satirist's tragedy is that he grows old.

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Try Independent Premium free for 1 month to access this feature. Find your bookmarks in your Independent Premium section, under my profile. Subscribe Now Subscribe Now. Final Say. Long reads. Lib Dems. US Politics. Theresa May. Jeremy Corbyn. He learns how to write properly and how to read something other than a tabloid, and experiences a sort of Distonite renaissance. He also meets Dawn Sheringham, a kind-hearted and intelligent girl, who becomes his first actual girlfriend. He soon joins the disreputable club of British Lotto Louts, laying his hand on every piece of extravagant and boisterous merchandise available, and placing himself in the company of his peers, namely, other redundant celebrities.

His immense wealth invokes in him absolutely no sense of charity, even though many in his family are in dire need of credit.

Lionel Asbo: State of England

Glamour model and aspiring poet "Threnody" becomes his new girlfriend, at least as long as it serves their mutual interest to become the Nation's favourites. All this wouldn't matter much to Desmond, but for a single unfortunate mistake, that threatens all his chances of overcoming Diston Town. Critical reception for the book was mixed, with some reviewers criticising Amis's repeated use of old plot schemes and character types. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.