September 2012

It’s a rich man’s world

By Martin Amis
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Few modern writers have shown such savage skill for crafting grotesque tales of excess as Martin Amis. Even fewer writers have managed to take such tales and turn them into something truly insightful. Amis has proven time and time again that he stands alone at the pinnacle of this kind of writing, and Lionel Asbo: State of England is further confirmation of his gifts.

Desmond Pepperdine is a teenager with dreams of being a writer whose life is dominated by his uncle and guardian, Lionel Asbo, an amoral powerhouse who feeds Tabasco to his dogs and gives Des helpful advice like “always carry a knife.” Desmond’s family has never really been cohesive, but things get even stranger when he begins a sexual relationship with his very young grandmother. As Des juggles his guilt and confusion with the secret he must keep from his violent uncle, everything changes when Lionel wins the lottery.

Suddenly ex-con Lionel is the juiciest thing the British press has encountered in ages. As he finds new ways to spend his cash, hires a publicist and takes up with a nude model, Lionel grows in the public eye, and Desmond is caught in the middle.

What’s most remarkable about Lionel Asbo is how real it feels despite the absurdities of the plot. Amis roots his tale in flawed, simple people and their flawed, simple desires, driving the story with his characteristically vivid prose. The result is something that works both as a comic tale of human indulgence and a frightening, precise bolt aimed at celebrity culture and class distinction.

Lionel Asbo is Amis at his best: a short, sweet, biting work of raw energy and surprising power. Amis fans will love it, and first-timers will find a compelling new voice to follow.

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