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The Zone of Interest
The Zone of Interest
by Martin Amis
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.99

25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing, 26 Aug. 2014
This review is from: The Zone of Interest (Hardcover)
There can be no doubt that The Zone of Interest is a marked return to form for Martin Amis. In fact, the novel has revivified his moribund talent. After the tired and fogeyish satire of Lionel Asbo (2012), it seemed the game was up. Yet Amis has regrouped and once again tackled the Holocaust, the focus of his frighteningly clever Time's Arrow (1991), and he has done the subject justice. That's not to say the novel's perfect, because it isn't, but it's certainly a powerful and provocative performance, and one that readmits Amis to the ranks of our pre-eminent literary novelists.

The novel has three first-person narrators: Angelus 'Golo' Thomsen (a Nazi bureaucrat), Paul Doll (camp Commandant), and Szmul (a Jewish prisoner, whose job it is, as a Sonderkommando, to help dispose of the corpses from the gas chambers). There is a fourth character, Hannah Doll (Paul's wife), who is the centre of a love triangle between Golo and Paul, but she is more a symbol than a presence. So, once again, we have an Amis novel exclusively voiced by men. And it's the voices that are most important, because not a lot happens in this book, and the love story is tenuous at best. Yet the meditations by the various characters on, and their increasing realisation of, the depravities of the Nazi regime frequently unsettle the reader, and so it's these we must pay attention to and not the casual plot.

But as with all of Amis's narrators, they all tend to sound the same after a while, and they all tend to represent the trio of perspectives that forever permeate his novels, regardless of their settings. Paul is a complete buffoon, Golo is a bit of a lad, and Szmul is given to reflecting on the human condition. Yet it's the slips in each narrator's voice that are most disconcerting, because Amis can't help inserting a flashy phrase where it really shouldn't be. For instance, Paul is a slavish dunce and one who speaks in the euphemistic terms of the Third Reich (no one is killed, they are simply dealt with in 'the suitable fashion' (p.67)). All of this is convincingly portrayed, but then Amis has him describe an evening's 'salmony sunset and...tumbling rack of clouds' (p.68), which is completely out of character and shatters the philistinism Amis has spent so long constructing.

Nevertheless, it is Szmul who tries, and fails, to explain the industrial turpitude undertaken at Auschwitz - he is the book's soul. In his 'Acknowledgements and Afterword: 'That Which Happened'', Amis reiterates the 'horror...desolation, and...bloody-minded opacity' (p.310) of Auschwitz, and of just how hard it is for us to assimilate what happened. In short, we can't. But Amis has given it a go, and it's a brave attempt to convey the collective madness that disturbingly prevailed at the time. Some will criticise Amis for the inclusion of humour where humour has no place to be, but it is essential, if only to humanise the protagonists. But each laugh must be seen as a transient antidote to the horror that pervades the novel, for it's this horror, this oppressive and unbelievable horror, which renders the book utterly disturbing.


BIT BETWEEN MY TEETH P
BIT BETWEEN MY TEETH P
by Edmund Wilson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £22.57

4.0 out of 5 stars The Familiar and the Bizarre, 27 Sept. 2013
This review is from: BIT BETWEEN MY TEETH P (Paperback)
Following on from the gargantuan Classics and Commercials (1950), The Bit Between My Teeth is another huge literary chronicle from Edmund Wilson. This time, however, he's expanded, and the collection covers the years 1950-65. The essays run in a thematic rather than a chronological order, although the dates of publication allow you to read them in sequence if you wish. Either way, the articles are superb addition to Wilson's incredibly varied oeuvre, and given the number of august periodicals he contributed to (The New Yorker, the Nation, the New Statesman, etc), they are a testament to his popularity and influence.

The book starts with 'A Modest Self-Tribute', an essay in which Wilson finally calls himself a 'literary critic' - a term he usually detests. Anyhow, the essay is an intriguing and necessary opener, as Wilson elucidates the fundamental tenets of his criticism, i.e. that it must be driven by 'narrative and drama as well as the discussion of comparative values'. In the following pages, Wilson takes these principles to a new altitude, with a newfound focus on the familiar and the bizarre. As such, Wilson writes intelligently on the Marquis de Sade, mushrooms, bees, dictionaries, grammars, Kingsley Amis, and Orcs.

In the 'Emergence of Angus Wilson', Wilson writes that, in literature, there 'ought to be some noble value somewhere'. When there isn't, the curmudgeonly critic strikes. The people who read J.R.R. Tolkien's novels have merely given in to a 'lifelong appetite for juvenile trash', and it is the same kind of vice that plagued F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, who are both condemned for their 'semi-adolescent fantasies'. When he's happy, though, he lays the praise on with a trowel: W.H. Auden is described as 'one of the great English men of the world', and, strangely, Doctor Zhivago is deemed 'one of the great events in man's literary and moral history'.

Although Wilson's bouts of hyperbole are rare, they can be a little misguided: is Doctor Zhivago really that good? There are moments when Wilson, for all his voracious interests, reveals his narrowness. It's strange that a man of his erudition 'never got around to Middlemarch', and it's also strange that, for all his renowned polyglotism, he 'made a point of learning no Spanish'. Moreover, Wilson continually derides the New Critics and their methodology; why, then, does he go and perform the same kind of sterile analysis on Pasternak's novel? (See 'Legend and Symbol in Doctor Zhivago'.) And, lastly, why does he undertake so many pointless endeavours, such as counting how many times the words 'Massive and massively' are used in David Copperfield? (In case you're wondering, there's four - apparently.)

But the faults are few, and Wilson, once again, stands out as a great literary critic. When he goes on the offensive, he does so out of a pure love for literature and out of a corresponding distaste towards those who seek to devalue it. He has his little faults and blindspots, his obsessions and his pedantries, but he transfers his enthusiasm(s) on to the reader. And that, surely, reaffirms his relevance. That, and the way he revivifies the dead.


Dolly: A Ghost Story (The Susan Hill Collection)
Dolly: A Ghost Story (The Susan Hill Collection)
by Susan Hill
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.98

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Slapdash, 24 Sept. 2013
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Susan Hill is an established name in the world of genre fiction. Whether she is undertaking spooky tales (such as The Woman in Black) or detective novels (such as the Simon Serrailler series), Hill has shown herself adaptable to the demands of genre. Yet when it comes to her ghostly novellas, there has been a horrifying downturn in quality since The Woman in Black and The Mist in the Mirror. The Man in the Picture was bearable, The Small Hand quite poor. And now there's Dolly, a book that marks the nadir.

As a child, the orphaned Edward Cayley is sent to holiday with his spinster Aunt. There he meets his capricious cousin, Leonora, a tiresome young madam given to somnambulism. Over time, Leonora reveals she's always wanted a doll, but it's the only gift her promiscuous and jet-setting mother's never bought her. So, in a moment of great generosity, Aunt Kestrel decides to buy her one instead. Upon receiving it, Leonora chucks it at the 'huge marble fireplace' and creates a 'jagged hollow' in its head: very naughty. What follows could be called The Dolly's Revenge, as a spirit (we are never told who or what) possesses the china figurine and wreaks havoc when both Leonora and Edward have children in the future, the point from which most of the tale is narrated.

The story itself is tired, its design disturbingly banal. As usual, it involves a creepy house, a collection of odd and angry women, and an unexplained presence of the supernatural. None of it, however, hangs together. Where The Woman in Black had a terrifying logic, Dolly is frequently ridiculous. What are we supposed to take from it: don't be nasty or bad things will happen? If Leonora deserves her future misery, Edward certainly doesn't: so what's the reasoning behind that? In short, Hill's decision to suspend explanation isn't mysterious, it's simply avoidance.

Many reviewers speak of Hill's precise prose, but her language is clichéd and misused (would a hamlet really have a 'church'?). There are other oddities too. Initially, on p.21, we are told that Edward's mother was older than Leonora's; yet, on p.97, Leonora says her 'mother was older' than Edward's. It may be a genuine mistake, but these chronological slips expose the slapdash nature of the book. Nonetheless, there is one enjoyable sentence, and this really does conjure an image: 'The air was sultry, the sky gathering into a yellowish mass like a boil'. Crude, yes, but it's the sole survivor in this sea of dead prose.


Classics And Commercials - A Literary Chronicle Of The Forties
Classics And Commercials - A Literary Chronicle Of The Forties
by Edmund Wilson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.01

5.0 out of 5 stars A Thing of Beauty, 3 Sept. 2013
Edmund Wilson's Classics and Commercials: A Literary Chronicle of the Forties was first published in 1950. Simply put, the book is a comprehensive survey of the 1940s literary scene, a scene disrupted by the horrors of the Second World War. As the title suggests, Wilson expends a lot of energy differentiating the high from the low - or, to use his favourite term, deciding what is really 'first-rate'. If that sounds too prescriptive, then don't be alarmed: this collection shows just what a stunning critic Wilson was.

He could, however, be a merciless gatekeeper. An essay such as 'A Treatise on Tales of Horror' may mock the specimens under the microscope, but Wilson keenly explores the reasons behind their continued popularity (in this case, they sooth the reader with the 'momentary illusion that the forces of madness and murder may be tamed'). The pieces dealing with crime fiction (such as 'Why Do People Read Detective Stories?' and 'Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?'') also deliver severe rebukes, for such writing is deemed a 'vice', and 'with the paper shortage pressing [this was published January 20 1945]...the squandering of this paper...might be put to better use'.

But it's not all bad. There are enlightening essays on Franz Kafka and Jane Austen, Jean-Paul Sartre and Evelyn Waugh; there's even one on Salvador Dali. Nevertheless, the most important articles are those on forgotten or unknown writers (or certainly unknown to this reviewer). Wilson makes Van Wyck Brooks, George Saintsbury, Max Beerbohm, and Paul Rosenfeld seem relevant to the present-day reader; and somehow, despite their present-day oblivion, the reader finishes this volume determined to look them up. And that, surely, is the mark of a great literary critic.

There are a number of comments scattered throughout the book that perfectly encapsulate Wilson himself. For example, you really do get the feeling that, like Cyril Connolly's, Wilson's love of literature was a 'strong appetite' he couldn't help indulging'; and you also realise that, like George Sainsbury's, his erudite prose has 'the air of a man...showing a friend the sights of some well-studied and loved locality'; but, unlike Paul Rosenfeld, Wilson knew that criticism 'was a commodity like any other...[and thus] had to be sold in a hard-boiled way'. Yet he never made it seem this way to his readers; no, Wilson undoubtedly made criticism a thing of beauty.


The Liberal Imagination (NYBR Classics)
The Liberal Imagination (NYBR Classics)
by Lionel Trilling
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heady Stuff, 19 Aug. 2013
According to Louis Menand's brief Introduction, Lionel Trilling's 'The Liberal Imagination was a phenomenon. It sold seventy thousand copies in hardcover and one hundred thousand in paperback. And it changed the role of literature in American intellectual life'. Heady stuff, especially when you consider that a present-day literary critic would bite your hand off for those sales figures. Surely, though, Trilling's bestsellerdom reflects an age when culture mattered, when the cold war ensured the mutating scope of liberalism was of the utmost importance. But what does Trilling offer for the reader nowadays, and does his interpretation of liberalism still apply?

In his Preface, Trilling states that although the book's 'essays are diverse in subject' the unifying glue is 'what we loosely call liberalism'. By analysing a whole range of writers and intellectuals, his aim is to study 'the relation of these ideas to literature'. But before we press on, we need to know Trilling's own definition of liberalism. In short, Trilling believes that modern liberalism's taste for oversimplification undermines its foundations of 'variousness, possibility, complexity, and difficulty', foundations which literature unceasingly builds upon in its 'unique' ability to reflect the age.

Taking this elastic formula, the following essays gambol over the meadows of the canonical and the popular, sniffing out complexity and stamping out hypocrisy. Even so, such a broadminded approach would fail if Trilling was stingy with his time, yet he spills as much ink dissecting F. Scott Fitzgerald as he does Henry James. Everything, however, is viewed through the Freudian lens, although Trilling happily quibbles with his master in 'Freud and Literature' and 'Art and Neurosis'. Remarkable as these pieces are, Trilling's beautifully crafted essay on Wordsworth's 'Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood' is simply beguiling. Unfortunately, synopsis will not do it justice: it must be read.

Always elegant, Trilling has the gift of being eminently quotable. For example, our adolescence is the age 'when we find the books we give up but do not get over'; when studying an era, a poet 'may be used as the barometer, but let us not forget he is also part of the weather'; and, finally, genius is not defined by neurosis but by the 'faculties of perception, representation, and realization'. Ultimately, though, Trilling follows his own definition of what a literary critic should do, as he is 'simply a reader who has the ability to understand literature and to convey to others what he understands'.


No Title Available

3.0 out of 5 stars A Competent Guide, 27 July 2013
First published in 1975 as part of the Literature in Perspective Series, Kenneth Grose's James Joyce is a brief yet competent guide through the oeuvre of a modernist titan. As the General Editor of the series, Grose's aim was to 'make a great writer's work intelligible to the ordinary non-scholarly reader', with the emphasis falling on the 'author's life and circumstances'. As such, the monograph's core premise is that 'nearly all Joyce's work...[is] autobiographical'. Although this is an intriguing proposition, a niggling question presents itself: is Grose being a bit too cavalier with the biographical interpretation of literature?

The first chapter, 'Joyce's life and Times', establishes context, although it is nothing more than an overview of Richard Ellmann's esteemed biography. After this, Grose tackles each one of Joyce's works with a varying degree of success and depth. While it is hard to fault Grose's honesty, it leads him into rash generalisations, such as when he describes the style of Dubliners as 'flat and dull, like the subject-matter', or when he condemns Joyce's verse as 'empty exercises in factitious emotion-mongering'. Nevertheless, the strong terms are used to create contrast, as Grose needs to justify spending two-thirds of his book devouring Ulysses, Joyce's unassailable masterpiece.

Grose's mission is to cut an elucidatory path through the esoteric jungle surrounding Ulysses. Taking each chapter in turn, his is a rather pedestrian account, and no more illuminating than Vladimir Nabokov's in Lectures on Literature or Edmund Wilson's in Axel's Castle. Thankfully, there are times when Grose tempers his reverence with short, incisive rebukes. For example, 'The Oxen of the Sun' chapter (for all its 'virtuosity') is marked down as 'a clumsy way of proceeding', while the 'Eumaeus' episode is deemed 'rather tedious'. Despite these objections, though, Grose concedes that reading Ulysses is 'extraordinarily exciting'.

With Finnegans Wake, Grose admits that Joyce 'had gone too far', and that's about it. But by this time we are a bit nonplussed: what happened to the biographical interpretation of literature? Where is the evidence of 'all Joyce's work...[being] autobiographical'? Apart from a few snippets of speculation, Grose has sidestepped the issue, and it's this unanswered premise that undoes all his good work. As a statement, it has a great deal of truth, so why not tell the reader exactly where, why, and how? The book may be small, but there was certainly enough room to explore this contentious issue; without it, Grose undermines his authority to make such a claim.


Hearing Secret Harmonies (Dance to the Music of Time)
Hearing Secret Harmonies (Dance to the Music of Time)
by Anthony Powell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.00

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Desperately Disappointing, 22 July 2013
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In his 1998 essay 'Powell's Way', Christopher Hitchens complains that A Dance to the Music of Time 'does not end or conclude, still less achieve a resolution. It just stops'. And he's right. But how could Powell sensibly end such a large suite of novels? To write a conclusion in the manner of Dickens would lead to another two volumes at least. Yet anything would have been better than this. In all honesty, Hearing Secret Harmonies is like a farcical mix of The Devil Rides Out and the Carry On films, and it is further proof that Powell ran out of puff.

Of course, for those who've ventured this far, the only issue that needs resolving is that of Kenneth Widmerpool: just what, we wonder, is Powell going to do with this political gadfly and inveterate solipsist? Well, the answer is to make him a tremulous underling to Scorpio Murtlock, who is one of Dr Trelawney's hipster disciples. As ever, Widmerpool is simply adapting to the counter-cultural revolutions of the late 1960s, although he is no match for the messianic Murtlock. The pair's tussle to become the sect's figurehead ends in Widmerpool's defeat, but the scenario is wholly unbelievable and doesn't sit well with all we know of Widmerpool and his scheming methods. In short, Powell fluffed it.

The novel's depiction of the Swinging Sixties fails. Having expended a lot of energy on the spiritualist nonsense of Dr Trelawney and Myra Erdleigh in the past eleven volumes, Powell now goes into overdrive. He also goes about establishing context in a heavy-handed way, as the references to Vietnam and Enoch Powell show. Nevertheless, it's the book's focus on the younger generation (i.e. hippies) that is the biggest mismatch, for these groovy folk are clearly not Powell's forte; no, his speciality is the literary milieu of the interwar years, the years of his own youth: any slight deviation from this well-worn path and the novels quickly wilt.

And so the cycle has come to an end. Overall, it is a hit-and-miss affair, the highpoints coming in the wartime trilogy and the novels focusing on 1930s bohemianism (At Lady Molly's and Casanova's Chinese Restaurant). There are many criticisms that can be aimed at Powell and his ambitious roman-fleuve, but you cannot fault his consistency of voice, his rendering of wartime vicissitudes, and his engaging disquisitions on memory and time. But, that being said, Hearing Secret Harmonies is a desperately disappointing denouement.


Visiting Mrs Nabokov And Other Excursions
Visiting Mrs Nabokov And Other Excursions
by Martin Amis
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Cultural Insight and Modern Despondency, 12 July 2013
The fans of Martin Amis tend to divide themselves into two factions: those who prefer the fiction, and those who prefer the essays. If pushed, the present reviewer would place himself in the latter camp, although Visiting Mrs Nabokov is a rather average collection. In his 'Introduction and Acknowledgments', Amis admits the book is 'an attempt at order and completion', and that 'Getting out of the house is the only thing that unites the pieces': it shows. But, this being Amis, the prose redeems the book, the articles a repository of laughter and laddishness, cultural insight and modern despondency: in short, Amis minus the fictional baggage.

Unsurprisingly, it is the literary interviews that hold most value. Whether sharing a lunch with Graham Greene or downing gin-and-tonics with Anthony Burgess, Amis is a shrewd literary critic, his conversation devoid of sycophantic backscratching. And he employs this no-nonsense approach when re-evaluating V.S. Pritchett's tales of the quotidian, Isaac Asimov's polymathic industriousness, and J.G. Ballard's 'faintly ludicrous, bizarrely logical and deeply haunting' novels. Most interestingly, though, Amis reveals what life was like for the post-fatwa Salman Rushdie, a period when his friend 'vanished into the front page'.

Although Amis claims 'much has been left out', there should have been more. Short articles such as 'Carnival', "Frankfurt", 'Poker Night', and 'The Rolling Stones at Earls Court' achieve little, while 'Phantom of the Opera: The Republicans in 1988' and 'Nuclear City: the Megadeath Intellectuals' were already dated at the time of publication. Nevertheless, the nuclear issue helps expose the main flaw in Amis's argumentation, i.e. his recourse to hyperbole. Only Amis would invite the reader to tell their children 'what we've done' with the world, and only Amis would encourage them to 'have nothing to do with anyone who has anything to do with anyone who has anything to do with nuclear weapons'.

Luckily, though, Amis peppers each one of these pieces with a flashy phrase, an absolute humdinger. For all the images of nuclear scientists as 'fireball merchants and inferno artists', there is a smattering of the poetic (the sky 'wearing an outfit of faded denim') and the witty ('It used to be said that by a certain age a man had the face that he deserved. Nowadays, he has the face he can afford'). But would Amis let another writer get away with 'conventional Convention junk'? It's doubtful. Yet despite Amis having such high standards, this collection frequently falls short of the mark, and, as such, gives further ammunition to those who would accuse him of peddling style over substance.


Temporary Kings (Dance to the Music of Time 11)
Temporary Kings (Dance to the Music of Time 11)
by Anthony Powell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fizzling Out?, 4 July 2013
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For those who have come this far, there is no turning back: the end is in sight, and Kenneth Widmerpool's demise will surely be revealed. Yet having toiled through the previous ten volumes, you would expect the penultimate novel to convey a sense of urgency. But the momentum seems to have stalled, leaving Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time in serious danger of fizzling out. And so for the hardened reader (and Powell's readers have to be hardened), there is a creeping realisation that the Dance is going to end with a hollow, feeble whimper.

The majority of Temporary Kings takes place in Venice. Having been sucked into attending a cultural conference by Mark Members, Nicholas Jenkins spends his days scrutinising his fellow intellectuals. Foremost among them is Russell Gwinnett, an American academic writing a biography on X. Trapnel; in addition, there is Louis Glober, a 'playboy-tycoon' and the yang to Gwinnett's yin, who wants to film Trapnel's lost manuscript, Profiles in String. But how can Powell link these two and examine the 'mysteries of American comportment'? Well, as usual, he makes Pamela Widmerpool - his structural panacea - a lover to them both.

However, not content with Pamela's promiscuous interactions with the two Americans, Powell decides to shoehorn her into Widmerpool's ignominious downfall as well. When viewing Tiepolo's (fictitious) Candaules and Gyges with a bunch of intellectual cronies, Jenkins notices Pamela's rapt reaction to the painting. Simply put, the legend represents just what the Widmerpools have been up to, and it explains Pamela's implication in the death of Ferrand-Sénéschal, the French intellectual. The novel pivots on this picture, although, once again, the Widmerpools are being asked to carry too much of the narrative burden, and their story of espionage and voyeurism is creakily farfetched.

Meanwhile, chez Jenkins, we hear nothing of the 'intense substance' of family life, and nothing about the son 'liable for military service'. It is stated that Isobel, Nick's wife, 'disliked' Odo Stevens, yet we are never told why. And Glober is not alone in being unprepared 'for Isobel's knowledge (in certain areas rivalling Trapnel's) of obscure or forgotten fiction': where did that come from? But these niggling inconsistencies will remain unanswered, as they take second place to the disintegrating Widmerpools. Intriguingly, though, Jenkins's obsession with the pair raises an unsettling question, and it is one that recasts the entire suite of novels: is he, too, a voyeur?


Byron Easy
Byron Easy
by Jude Cook
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Genuine New Talent, 27 Jun. 2013
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This review is from: Byron Easy (Hardcover)
Byron Easy is Jude Cook's exhilarating debut novel. Stylishly written and jam-packed with elegant insights and splenetic rants, the book establishes Cook as a genuine talent, a potential leader for a new generation of British writers. Far from trying to overthrow his elders, he has clearly assimilated their intricate styles and tragicomic plots. And, in all honesty, it works, although he's evidently absorbed his predecessors' love of linguistic excess; this, however, is the only cloud hanging over the book, which, for all its minor transgressions and slips, is precociously accomplished.

It is Christmas Eve 1999, and Byron Easy is pondering his recent upheavals. Despite travelling in an overcrowded train, Easy's northbound journey unceasingly dredges up the past, especially his marriage to Mandy, a cast-iron nutcase. The novel's train/flashback scenario may be reminiscent of Tolstoy's Kreutzer Sonata, but as an old-fashioned Bildungsroman it is hugely successful. Easy's tempestuous odyssey is assiduously mapped, although, as with all first-person narrators, he is wildly unreliable. There are certain incidents and narrative twists that shake the reader's confidence in his veracity; and, as Mandy is largely unvoiced, or voiced only through Easy's mouth, we must judge carefully.

As the narrative unfurls, and the book, like the train, gathers momentum, Easy's familial and friendly relationships are soon exposed as shams. It also transpires that a lot of hideous things have happened to him: parental neglect, child molestation, cuckoldry. Yet despite his pervading morbidity, Easy is very funny, his gift for comic exaggeration unparalleled. He may turn shocking scenes into hilarious set pieces, but that doesn't undercut his moral seriousness, his outrage at the seedier side of life. Nevertheless, the novel, for all its seeming grimness, is uplifting, joyous, heroic.

And those last three words are an example of Cook's one enduring foible: his predilection for threes. For some reason, his adjectives, nouns, and images all come in tight little trios. Easy can feel 'heartsick, shaky, inconsolable', expect 'derision, rebuttal, laughter', and describe love as 'that fatal balance, that feted curiosity...that doomed parity'. There is, however, a person responsible for all this verbal baggage. When Easy admits that 'Martin [his boss and spiritual father] had taught me things' the same could go for Cook. Martin Amis's influence infuses the book's prose, right down to the adjectival overload and love of crazy compounds. Yet there are times when Cook easily outsoars his master, and so we can only hope that, given time, he decides to move out of Amis's mesmerising shadow: he is certainly good enough.


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