The War Against Cliché: Essays and Reviews 1971-2000 Paperback – 7 Mar 2002
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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
"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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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.Read more ›
The work that went into these short articles and essays must have been colossal; the erudition is impressive; the modesty that nevertheless comes across is, I am quite sure, genuine. From MA's introduction, I would have expected at least some of his early reviews to be mean and facile, the sort of arrogant ill-judged stuff youngsters write and mature people are wisely embarrassed by. But I found no cruelty or disrespect whatsoever; if anything, I would have liked to see more bite in, for example, his critique of Iris Murdoch. As for clumsiness or immaturity, of either thought or expression, again, there is none. In the early 1970s the boy already wrote non-fiction like a fully-formed bloody genius. And for my money, Amis was -- is -- a genius.
He writes so beautifully that he leaves no room for doubt: literary criticism can be literature, and in his hands it becomes the highest (best crafted, most entertaining and thought-provoking) literature there is. Even better, in his hands literary criticism is a science: diligently researched, evidence (copious excerpts from the books) is used to support arguments, and those arguments are so sharp that it's impossible not to agree with this clever and relentlessly methodical man. Well, almost impossible.Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Well, it was certainly interesting to read this book. I’d toured Mr. Amis’s eponymous Rachel Papers, along with his middle career Greatest Hits (Success, Money, London Fields), as... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Troy Parfitt
Martin Amis writes brilliantly. This is largely a collection of book reviews though with some extended pieces on other topics like football and chess. Read morePublished 3 months ago by billc
Excellent and pointed essays. Great to pick up and read when you want a quick insight into the works he discusses.Published 17 months ago by Jennie
A very varied collection of reviews, held together by Amis's delight in language and entertainingly hardline attitude to other writers.Published on 6 Sept. 2013 by Danimal
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 on 27 Mar. 2013 by Sharfa Sorwar
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 morePublished on 5 Jan. 2012 by Andrew Ross
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... Read morePublished on 4 Feb. 2010 by Dave Gilmour's cat
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 morePublished on 10 Oct. 2009 by Amazon Customer