Something is Amis

Book: Lionel Asbo: State of England

Author: Martin Amis

Publisher: Jonathan Cape

Pages: 276

Price: Rs 550

It will go down as one of the arch ironies of Anglo-American literature that just about the time the reputation of Martin Amis as the big daddy of English letters was sealed for a couple of generations, his career as a novelist had to be given up for lost. Till he returned with The Pregnant Widow (2010), which many, including this reviewer, had celebrated, and not without apparent cause at the time, as the intimation of Amis's late style. A couple of years later, Amis is back with a state-of-the-nation novel about the nation and the state he has recently left. Given Amis and family's departure for New York, Lionel Asbo cannot help but sound the notes of disappointment and disgust. England just did not get Amis Jr. He thought he always got England. But don't read Lionel Asbo for the state of England.

Lionel Asbo (A-S-B-O: Anti-Social Behaviour Order), the lotto lout, the East End low-life, who suddenly rises to celebrity by winning 140 million in the National Lottery while doing his chores in prison, "pronounced 'myth' miff. Full possessive pronouns your, their, my still made guest appearances in his English, and he didn't invariably defy grammatical number (they was, and so on). But his verbal prose and his accent were in steep decline. Until a couple of years ago Lionel pronounced 'Lionel' Lionel. But these days he pronounced 'Lionel' Loyonel, or even Loyonoo." A writer loves even her most loathsome characters and, despite the fact that the state of England is the state of its language, Lionel evokes both affection and abhorrence in his creator. Which, the reader can safely assume, is Amis's last word on England yet. For all the psychotic violence and the chilli-charged psychopathic pit-bulls he goes out debt-collecting with, Lionel is a petty criminal, and not very successful at that. He has turned stupidity into an art by steadfastly refusing to use his intelligence. For his 18th birthday, he had his last name changed from Pepperdine to Asbo in honour of the court order.

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