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Lionel Asbo: State of England Hardcover – 7 Jun 2012

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape (7 Jun 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224096206
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224096201
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 2.9 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (81 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 217,871 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Martin Amis is the author of ten novels, the memoir Experience, two collections of stories and six collections of non-fiction. He lives in London.

Product Description


"Martin Amis's Lionel Asbo made me laugh (as any novel driven by incestuous relations with your grandmother should) and then feel ashamed for that laughter (as any novel driven by incestuous relations with your grandmother should)." (James Kidd Independent)

"It's a Big Mac made from filet mignon… It is a book of lovehate. It is a powershake. And the biggest joy is that Amis seems to find himself (and finds us, by extension) loving the thing he loathes... So let's give thanks that Martin Amis was bad enough and brave enough to write it" (Nicola Barker Observer)

"This is still a Martin Amis novel, full of tense, fugitive moments…had me roaring with laughter." (DJ Taylor Independent)

"Being an Amis novel it’s not without the odd good joke, and he is, of course, incapable of writing and inelegant line. (It’s almost as if he alone can sense both the golden ratio of a sentence, and its perfect rhythm: it’s like he’s Michelangelo and Keith Moon)." (David Annand Sunday Telegraph)

"As soon as you begin this novel, it is clear that Amis does indeed love his monstrous invention, Lionel Asbo. Lionel is a fantastic brute… Amis’s delight in the incorrigible is genuinely Dickensian… This is a verbally inventive comedy…to be enjoyed in the same spirit as Little Britain… It’s a hoot." (David Sexton Evening Standard)

Book Description

A modern fairytale from one of the world's great writers

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Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By John Frum on 7 Feb 2014
Format: Paperback
I got about half way through this wearisome yarn before abandoning it. In my judgement Amis has produced nothing worth reading since "London Fields" and "The Information". "Lionel Asbo" sustains the decline. There are a few decent jokes but overall there is nothing to sustain interest. The principal characters never convince and if there's anything resembling a plot, rather than a lurching series of set-pieces, I didn't manage to stay awake long enough to discover it. And there's something distasteful about Amis' unconvincing impersonation of underclass life.
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45 of 52 people found the following review helpful By D. Rodriguez on 25 Jun 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
To write about the Underclass, a writer must surely have some knowledge or experience of it, even if all it amounts to is a week or two hanging out in some low-life pub. I'm not going to give a summary of the plot: there are some excellent ones here already. I'll just say that the plot is an engaging one, and Amis a consummate storyteller. Where he falls down, in my opinion, is that he doesn't make me believe in his characters. It's not clear whether he intends them to be outlandish caricatures of benefits scroungers, thugs and teenage mothers. (David Cameron and George Osborne may have picked up their ideas from the same sources.)"Lionel Asbo" is also full of anachronisms. For example, at what sink comprehensive were boys wearing shorts and purple blazers as recently as 2006? Surely a 15-year-old has a mobile phone, even if s/he has nothing else? (Most of the 8-year-olds I know have them.) The book sometimes reads like a poor, contrived pastiche of Dickens, funny surnames, street names and all. Where Amis excels is in his ability to convey a character's physical features in a small number of words, and his beautiful use of simile and metaphor: the sun, in one passage, is fixed in the sky like a gilt tack. "Lionel Asbo" is an enjoyable read, but that isn't enough. I failed to engage with his characters; they seemed rather pathetic, and in the end I didn't really care what happened to them.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By M. READ on 27 Mar 2013
Format: Hardcover
This is a genuine question. My first reaction--clearly shared by many other reviewers--was that he has completely lost the plot. Unlike Amis, I live in central London, and until recently worked with adolescents. The portrayal of characters and social context bear no relationship to reality--or rather, a grossly distorted one. This horror of working class urban life seems to run through Amis's work--perhaps he ought to try living somewhere really tough!

and yet....I didn't throw the book aside in disgust, though I was tempted to after fifty pages or so. His plotting and writing are sufficiently engaging to keep the reader interested. It appears to me that he's attempting a Dickensian approach: social satire by exaggeration and caricature. There are three reasons why this doesn't work:
1) although a lively and inventive writer, he's no genius
2) Dickens did at least know the world he depicted at first hand
3) Although Dickens is marred by sentimentality, this at least suggests some generosity of spirit, which Amis (or his authorial persona) seems mostly lacking in.

That said, it's not a waste of time. Over the past few years, there's been a lot of Amis-baiting, but at least he writes lively and accessible novels that don't play safe.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Sue Kichenside TOP 500 REVIEWER on 3 Dec 2012
Format: Hardcover
Well, well, well. Lionel Asbo has certainly caused something of a stir amongst the Amazon reviewing community. For what it's worth - and this review will be so far down as to never be seen - I found it to be Shamelessly enjoyable.

Film and tv viewers of such programmes as Shameless are certainly inured to seeing (hmm, how shall I put this?) the underclass (if that would be acceptable?) portrayed on the screen. But in a book, not so much. Martin Amis clearly had fun writing this and why should he not? We all have the right to write what we like these days so I really don't see why he should be decried for doing so. Why the fuss?

Bad luck for Amis, though, that the publication of this book more or less coincided with the government's announcement of a proposal to replace ASBOs with a "criminal behaviour order" (nicknamed "crimbo" in the media). Thus, the moment the book came out, it appeared to be immediately behind the zeitgeist. Timing is everything. But it doesn't really matter whether the book is relevant to our times or whether it tells us anything about the state of the nation. The question is: is it a good read? For my money, the book is a blast.

Others have covered the plot but it bears repeating that the main protagonist, violent, amoral Uncle Li, lacks a single redeeming quality; you have to be prepared for the fact that there are no concessions to likeability here. Then there's his mum who has a penchant for young boys and the Telegraph cryptic crossword. His long-suffering, academically brilliant nephew Des, the moral heart of the book. Plus sundry other unsavoury characters whose names are a hoot (as you'd expect from Amis). And then there are the dogs.

Jokes, when they come, are laugh out loud funny and the writing is glorious. Exuberant, even. The thing about Martin Amis never writing a cliché has, in itself, become a cliché. Oh, the irony.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I read this book as I was doing a study at the time on English Country Houses as a metaphor for the state of the nation and a book about a man who buys a country pile after winning the lottery entitled "Lionel Asbo: State of the Nation" seemed pertinent. It was useful to the study and shows nicely how the country house as a setting in literature continues to be a convenient box to shove all kinds of themes into, It was also a bit disappointing. I liked Des (what's not to like) mainly because the author intended we like him. I hated Lionel (what is to like?) mainly because the author intends we hate him. I could also see that Lionel was a kind of emblem for a certain aspect of England in our time. However, there was equally something I didn't like about this book as a work of fiction - it read as a bit artificial to me - Lionel was too much, and it was all a bit overkill. I kept waiting and waiting for justice to find Lionel, but it never did. Even when justice did catch up with him and he went to prison, Lionel was glad to be there, because it was a good place to sort his head out ("Prison, said Lionel. Good place to get you head sorted out. You know where you are in prison. Well yeah, thought Des. You're in prison." p. 123. I also kept waiting for the storyline to develop around the character who Lionel organised to be "sold" (his name escapes me, sorry) but it never did. The ending was unsatisfactory (probably because it wasn't neat enough for me). I know some people will say that there's something wrong with expecting a neat ending in a world which is less than satisfactory - but I do like to have that happy ending in fiction - as, even today, I think most people do. This wasn't for me - it was too bleak, too grubby and too messy. Still, it was an interesting spin on country house fiction.
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