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The War Against Cliché: Essays and Reviews 1971-2000 Paperback – 7 Mar 2002

4.6 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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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: 12.9 x 3.1 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 225,543 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

Review

"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

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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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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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Martin Amis greatly admired Updike's prodigious output, and the extraordinary amounts of research Updike did for his novels and non-fiction. Judging by 'The War Against Cliché', Martin isn't doing so bad himself. The book is a formidable collection of writings on a vast number of mostly literary subjects. Travel, reportage on football hooligans, self-help tosh from the likes of Hillary Clinton and somebody called Robert Bly whom I've never heard of, also get a look-in.

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.
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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Paperback
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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