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The Pregnant Widow Hardcover – 4 Feb 2010
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"hugely entertaining" (Frances Wilson The Daily Telgraph, Review)
One of Britain's finest writers returns with an extraordinary new novelSee all Product description
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The phrase "The Pregnant Widow" was coined by a Russian writer, Alexander Herzen, and refers to the post revolutionary vacuum which usually exists between the death of the old order and the birth of the new. In this instance Amis is dealing with the, as yet, in his view, not fully formed or matured feminist movement. Old attitudes are certainly dead, but what has replaced them? So far, nothing satisfactory. That is what the turmoil and angst in this book argues, in novel form.
Martin Amis has a very extravagant and exuberant way with words. Considering the subject matter that he consistently returns to - sex, with all its meats and fluids on full display - without this opulent, ironic style, we would be verging on, if not up to our eyes in, the realm of serious smut. But he can carry it off, and with panache. He manages, seemingly effortlessly, to take the English language and march it wherever he chooses, through the murkiest terrains, and it comes through smiling, as do we.
So, it is hard to describe a plot here. A group of young people spend a summer lounging around the pool of an Italian castle and talk about sex. The novel is from the viewpoint of Keith (Yes, another Keith), looking back at the summer of his 'sexual trauma' as he begins to experience the first pangs of old age. The way Amis builds the importance of the actual 'trauma' and hides what it actually was is one of the pleasures of the book.
But this is Amis, so as discussed above plot means nothing. What matters is that he is discussing issues, rather than being stylish for the sake of it. Age, the sexual revolution, friendship, a nod to the real life death of his sister. For the first time in a while Amis has written something with 'heart'. There is an emotional truth in the book which has not been evident in his work of late. Here when he talks about love and relationships you believe him. This time I care about his characters and not just admire the fictional constraint he has built for them.
Not that the style had gone. It's hard to imagine a writer who shows such joy in the construction of sentences. Whatever you say about him, and a lot of people say a lot of things, he is a master of the English language. And Pregnant Widow is written with a swagger. Some of the writing is dazzling.
But more importantly it's funny, laugh out loud funny in places. Amis can spot the farce in human relationships and is acerbic in his drawing of it.
This is his most complete and satisfying novel for a very long time and in my opinion it is a scandal that it was overlooked by the Booker panel this year.
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