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The War Against Cliché: Essays and Reviews 1971-2000 [Paperback]

Martin Amis
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
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Book Description

7 Mar 2002

Like John Updike, Martin Amis is the pre-eminent novelist-critic of his generation. The War Against Cliché is a selection of his reviews and essays over the past quarter-century. It contains pieces on Cervantes, Milton, Donne, Coleridge, Jane Austen, Dickens, Kafka, Philip Larkin, Joyce, Waugh, Lowry, Nabokov, F. R. Leavis, V. S. Pritchett, William Burroughs, Anthony Burgess, Angus Wilson, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Shiva and V. S. Naipaul, Kurt Vonnegut, Iris Murdoch, Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal, Don DeLillo, Elmore Leonard, Michael Crichton, Thomas Harris - and John Updike.

Other subjects include chess, nuclear weapons, masculinity, screen censorship, juvenile violence, Andy Warhol, Hillary Clinton, and Margaret Thatcher.

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The War Against Cliché: Essays and Reviews 1971-2000 + The Moronic Inferno: And Other Visits to America + Experience
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Product details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (7 Mar 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099422220
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099422228
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 104,111 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

Amazon Review

In Martin Amis's War Against Cliché, a selection of critical essays and reviews published between 1971 and 2000, he establishes himself as one of the fiercest critics and commentators on the literature and culture of the late 20th century. (He has already established himself as one of the most controversial and original novelists writing in English with novels such as Money and Time's Arrow). In his "Foreword" Amis ruefully admits that his earlier reviews reveal a rather humourless attitude towards the "Literature and Society" debate of the time. Yet this only adds to the fascination of the collection, as Amis gradually finds his critical voice in the 1980s, confirming his passionate belief that "all writing is a campaign against cliché". In the subsequent sections of the book this war leads to some wonderfully cutting and amusing responses to whatever crosses his path, from books on chess and nuclear proliferation to the novels of his hero Vladimir Nabokov and Cervantes' Don Quixote. Praise for his literary heroes is often fulsome--JG Ballard's High-Rise "is an intense and vivid bestiary, which lingers in the mind and chronically disquiets it"--but his literary wrath is also devastating in its incisiveness. Thomas Harris's Hannibal is dismissed as "a novel of such profound and virtuoso vulgarity", whilst John Fowles is attacked because "he sweetens the pill: but the pill was saccharine all along". Often frank in its reappraisals (Amis conceded to being too hard on Ballard's Crash when reviewing the film many years later), some of the best writing is reserved for his journalism on sex manuals, chess and his beloved football. War Against Cliché will provoke strong reactions, but that only seems to confirm, rather than deny the value of Amis' writing. --Jerry Brotton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"A tour de force in which every paragraph uncoils with vertiginous twists and turns, lightning metaphors, genuine learning, unstoppable laughter, and a passionate sense of literary pleasure" (Independent)

"Amis's gifts - vigilance, wit, energy of language... A collection that reaffirms him as the suavest and funniest critic of his generation" (Mail on Sunday)

"We have here a literary critic of startling power... Often being right and being funny are, in this book, aspects of the same sentence... Amis is the best practitioner-critic of our day - just what Pritchett was in his prime..." (London Review of Books)

"[Written] with intelligence and ardor and panache... Speaks not just to a lifetime of reading but also to a fascination with individual writers mature" (New York Times)

"Brilliant prose... [Amis] proselytizes for talent by demonstrating it, by doing it... He is a master" (New York Times Book Review)

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The boy Amis is different class 8 May 2001
I'd read some rather snotty reviews of this book in the literary sections of the UK press. They are all wrong - the book is a delight. Whether its Malcolm Allison and Martin Chivers or Philip Roth and John Updike (now who did they play for?) Amis if full of elegant insights into literature and modern living. It also contains the best essay I've read on the trouble with James Joyce's Ulysses. Indeed this essay and the writings on Nabokov reveal his real preferences in great writing - which I'd interpret as artistry and truth combined with warm humanity and humour.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Dubbed "Smarty Marty" years ago when his writing ability seemed in advance of his years, it would be good to think that the title has lost the mocking tone that it had previously. Martin Amis really is smart and appears to have read just about every book in - and out of - the Leavis canon of "Great Literature".
He employs his wide range of analytical tools to review the obsessions of authors such as Bellow, Updike, Nabokov and Murdoch and in the process takes the reader on an extraordinary voyage of discovery.
Highly recommended for anyone has the most remote interest in literature or popular culture.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stick with it, you'll be rewarded 10 April 2002
By A Customer
There is a man, says Amis, who has succeeded Coleridge as having read every book in the world. No mean feat, considering the poet only had to contend with perhaps a fraction of books now extant. Of course, Amis is exaggerating. However, in this collection of literary criticism cribbed from nearly thirty years of book reviews and essays, Martin Amis certainly gives the impression that he has had a pretty good stab himself.
Although the collection is perhaps over-egged with pieces on his beloved Nabokov and Saul Bellow, there are highly entertaining critiques on works by Joyce and Murdoch, Philip Roth and John Updike.
A must for anyone who likes highly-charged articulate writing, and for Amis fans, this book will only make their hunger for that new novel even keener.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The War Against Cliché 4 Feb 2010
This superb anthology of Mart's non-fiction essays is never hard-going, and is always entertaining. The man's style is such a pleasure to read, regardless of what he writes about (and he writes about pretty much everything here). If you like this book, look out for:
* The Moronic Inferno
* Visiting Mrs Nabokov and Other Excursions
* The Second Plane: September 11, 2001-2007

...which also offer some of his most thought-provoking pieces. There's no overlap between any of these books, either, so they're all pretty much essential. But if you just want to read his best fiction, go for Money.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Candid, Humourous and Erudite 4 Jun 2013
By T. West
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Amis' collection of essays reads well, and is logically organised. It's not all literature; football, chess and nuclear weapons get essays dedicated to them.

Writing a review about a collection of reviews by a superior writer is largely redundant, and he does open with a little lament about the rise of the amateur critic, but it is rewarding to see such a combination of knowledge and articulate prose dedicated to subjects that generate the most impassioned responses, and it isn't 'swatty' or too scholarly; many of his essays are a joy to read compared to the dry, po-faced fodder I had to chew through at university.

Another reviewer complains about his reaction to Joyce, but I don't think he'd read the book properly, as Amis says in his essay on Ulysses, 'Joyce makes Nabokov seem guileless' and neither writer really trumps the other in the summary of the final essay on Nabokov. The Irishman's genius is duly acknowledged, but perhaps Amis doesn't want to add to the tsunami of gushing academia. To paraphrase; 'Joyce could've been the most popular or the funniest boy in class, or anything he wanted to be. In the end he was the teacher's pet'.

There is a fair amount of contempt in certain reviews, although not nearly as much as i'd expected. The Americans do well (apart from Thomas Harris), and his pieces on various writers and 'schools' have certainly confirmed a few suspicions, as well as making me want to read a much greater number of the modern masters, with the essays focusing on the great prose stylists more than the narrative content of certain works.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A war well worth fighting 11 May 2001
Whether defending Larkin against posthumous dirt-digging or reawakening the reader to the literary talents of DeLillo, Updike and Nabokov, this collection of reviews is consistently perceptive, beautifully argued and laced with plenty of the snigger-triggering asides which Amis fans relish so much. I don't usually pack lit-crit books to read on holiday, but this one was earmarked for the hand luggage as soon as it hit the doormat.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incisive and original 28 Jun 2001
By A Customer
Amis has a remarkably penetrating eye for cant and a peerless ear for bad writing. He stalks big game, and comes back with some impressive scalps. But he's at his best when the invective cools, and when instead he focuses on favourites like Philip Larkin or unexpected subjects (chess, Forum magazine). One to keep by the bed.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful retrospective
A very varied collection of reviews, held together by Amis's delight in language and entertainingly hardline attitude to other writers.
Published 11 months ago by Danimal
5.0 out of 5 stars Great
Great, book needed for uni studies, good for those who are interested in writing as I needed this for my creative writing part of my English Degree.
Published 17 months ago by Sharfa Sorwar
5.0 out of 5 stars Martin at his best
Martin Amis was an excellent journalist and this volume of essays spanning three decades proves it. One can be - and I am - sceptical about the merits of some of his novels, but... Read more
Published on 5 Jan 2012 by Andrew Ross
4.0 out of 5 stars Bad Writer, Great Reviewer
Anyone unfortunate enough to have read Martin Amis's fiction could be easily forgiven for deciding never again to pick up anything with his name on the front. Read more
Published on 10 Oct 2009 by Mr. B. Hammond
2.0 out of 5 stars Martin's War Against Reason
First, let me say that there is much about this collection of (mostly literary) criticism that will amuse the average reader. Read more
Published on 19 Sep 2008 by Miracle
5.0 out of 5 stars wake up English writers!
Amis IS English literature right now. Fact. Nobody is covering as much ground as him,is more skilled with the craft,and still flying the flag of literary passion... Read more
Published on 22 May 2003 by barry ledgister
5.0 out of 5 stars sublime
perhaps the funniest, most acutely perceptive book i've ever read. Amis is excellent on style, wide-ranging in scope (early on, we have the unforgettable depiction of the new man,... Read more
Published on 4 Mar 2003 by I. J. Mclachlan
4.0 out of 5 stars Impressive
As i say, impressive, but i was left wanting more from 'Mart'. The criticism in the book is just that, nothing more, it was like reading a series of exam essays written by a very... Read more
Published on 13 July 2001
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