on 2 September 2003
Amis' new novel - his first full-length fiction since "Night Train" in 1997 - has provoked considerable response in the UK press. As usual, the controversy has less to do with the book itself, than with the rather tawdry infighting so redolent of the London literary scene. Little attention has been paid to the actual novel, which does in fact demonstrate Amis writing (almost) to the peak of his considerable powers.
The themes and characters are familiar Amis tropes - low life crooks, the upper classes, pornography, and the "category-error" of rampant male violence. But "Yellow Dog" does see Amis branching out in the form to an extent not seen since 1991's "Time's Arrow". While the prose is versatile, endlessly inventive and cuttingly precise, Amis opts here for a fragmented form, stuttering and abrupt, that brilliantly reflects his central concerns. This is very much a 21st century novel, and it is permeated with a feeling of discontinuity and dull paranoia. It is also, as we have come to expect, very, very funny.
Occasionally this style doesn't quite pull together, and the ending (as is usual for an Amis book) isn't quite satisfactory, but there is no one else in the country who is producing literature as edgy and stylised as this. Amis is a modern master, and "Yellow Dog", while not being the best introduction for new readers, is absolutely essential for anyone who wants an early reading of what this century is going to be like. And in an unusual twist for the Amis canon, the book does attempt a redemptive conclusion. Perhaps Amis' dark and cynical imagination is beginning to move out into the light.
on 17 November 2003
Spasmodically funny, clever and inventive it may be, but there's nothing here to engage the reader emotionally, and the intellectual bite of the novel isn't enough to justify such a trade-off. As ever with Amis, the writing is often truly inspired (if sometimes a bit try-hard), but entire sections of the novel (the aircraft bit) seem largely or wholly pointless, and others (the 'royal' scenes) unconvincing and dry. His unusual verbal dexterity ensures that his reputation will stay solid, but there are much more substantial, worthwhile novels being written.
on 2 August 2004
Amis's first novel proper since 1996's The Information is a profound disappointment. The "great stylist" seems to have started believing his press and delivered a book that is all style and no substance, to the point that it reads rather like a parody of Amis rather than the man himself.
There is no plot; not necessarily a drawback as plot has never been his strong point anyway, but he's got away with it in the past thanks to strong, entertaining characters such as Keith Talent and John Self. Here, sadly, the characters are merely ciphers, stereotypes - the boring New Man, the retired Cockney villain, the slobbish tabloid journalist, the bad lad footballer. The royal subplot detracts from the book's credibility, and the corpse-in-the-airliner subplot is a waste of paper.
It's not all bad - Amis's writing can still be a thing of wonder and some of the dialogue here, particularly that involving aged villain Joseph Andrews, is absolutely superb - but on the whole the book lacks coherence and some passages - the death of Mal and the blinding of Clint Smoker for example - are so badly written as to be incomprehensible.
In his old age, Salvador Dali used to sign blank canvasses so that less talented artists could make a fortune by passing off their work as that of the genius himself - Yellow Dog comes across as the literary equivalent of one of these fraudulent works. It's got Amis's name on it, but the writing within is a poor imitation.
on 9 January 2004
I'm as big an Amis fan as they come. Money and London Fields are genius. Is there a more compelling character in modern lit than John Self and his Fiasco? Or Keith Talent ("the sincerity of the dart")? Or Nicola Six? ("Six (6)") Well, Xan Meo ain't among them. Not sure what happened here. I just never grabbed the thread. The incendiary language wasn't there, neither were the train wreck characters. The thing with Meo's daughters seemed pointlessly creepy and the rest of cast seemed shallow and insubstantial. The porno bits were mildly amusing, clearly inspired by Amis's (much better) journalism on the same. The best stuff was the paraphrasing of the American airline pilots' banalities, a credited rip of Black Boxes (a fave read of mine even before Y Dog).
on 25 May 2004
First of all, Amis' writing in Yellow Dog has never been bettered - there are passages of absolutely blatant bravura writing, and at least two of his characters are immortals - tabloid journalist Clint Smoker and his rants are truly astonishing, and London hardman Joseph Andrews is a reductio ad absurdum of all his bad lads. For these characters alone it's worth reading, although the twist in one of Clint's plots is telegraphed a mile away and Andrews is really more of a catalyst than a character deeply involved with the plot.
And for a throwaway minor character, the psychotic footballer Car is absolutely splendid.
But there are two structural problems with the book.
First, it's impossible to care about the protagonist Xan Meo. Recovering from a head injury and suffering from personality changes his descent into "anti-fatherhood" is uncomfortable reading, but we barely get to know him beforehand; we owe him no sympathy, and without knowing more about him we can't know whether his wrongs are really new behaviour...
Secondly, the King. Amis invents an entirely parallel universe, invents several generations of monarchy, and ends up producing an occasionally embarrassingly poor satire of Prince Charles in King Henry XI; his Queen lying in a persistent vegetative state in a Scottish hospital. Henry also has problems with his daughter, who has been captured on film in a compromising position... again, though, the "twist" is telegraphed and there is no element of surprise when we find out what's happening.
There's a great pure-Amis black comedy subplot about a corpse on a plane, some meaningless cosmic speculation, and all in all a plot (such as it is) that just sort of stops rather than coming to a coherent end.
I enjoyed most of Yellow Dog immensely, but looking back on it, it didn't have the coherence of Amis' finest novels; it lacked the savagery and scope of London Fields, the formal revenge tragedy of The Information, or the sustained black comedy of Money. It's a pity that the structure of the book failed, because I think it contains some of Amis' finest writing yet.
on 18 September 2003
Yellow Dog is a true Martin Amis creation, stylistically it is structured well, having three streams of narrative each altering in rhythm and language depending on character. Also its amusing, but as an avid Amis reader its all too obvious.
As an Amis novel I can't fault it, but as great as Money? No way! This novel attempts to persuade the reader towards the idea that we have transcended all 'morality' in the wake of 9/11 and is trying to push the reader beyond the ideas of London Fields or Money. And although it truly does this, it doesn't do it as well as it should. The truly dissapointing thing about reading this novel is that you CAN put it down, unlike Amis' other works, and this to me is a bad sign. If you are an Amis fan you have to read this novel, but I warn you; prepare to have a twinge of dissapointment in your heart when you finish.
on 1 October 2003
Like a number of other reviewers, I think Martin Amis is among our best writers.
But although I enjoyed this book, it felt a little too contrived for me to be really absorbed. The fractured narratives work, but many of the characters are too superficial to engage me. As for the dead guy on the plane...
Still, it's a Martin Amis, which puts it in another category from most novelists. And if every novel I read could be as good as his weakest, I'd be very happy.
For the sake of comparison, I'd say this is something like a cross between "Dead Babies" and "London Fields" without ever getting as much steam up.
If you haven't read Amis, I'd point you towards "The Information", "London Fields", "Night Train" or "Other People" before "Yellow Dog".
on 3 June 2014
If all the prose, with the hallmark Amis magic of description, were assembled into a novel it would be pretty good. Unfortunately, he is just trying too hard to avoid convention. The result is dozens of characters in dozens of sub-plots apparently going nowhere. No doubt it would all come together in the end; it always does. But I didn't find any of the threads interesting enough to soldier on. The normal Amis's hyperbole and lead-weighted sarcasm work well in novels with a simpler structure, e.g. Money, but here they just seem gratuitous. Instead of a theme, we get his obsession with pornography, a little paedophilia, gratuitous violence, sexual anxiety etc. all thrown into a tub and stirred with obscure vocabulary. After 225 pages, you can't say I didn't try, I just gave up. I really didn't care how it ended.
on 8 September 2003
He's back. The greatest stylist of our generation, Martin Amis, returns with this blistering novel of modern life, angst and violence.
You either love him or hate him, your'e either drawn in or thrown out, amazed or disgusted, dazzled or bored. For the doubters out there; make time for this novel, cherish it and live it for a few days and you will not be disappointed. Amis may not be the easiest read out there but for sheer inventiveness, humour and downright prose style he can not be beaten.
'Yellow Dog' contains the usual Amis suspects, violent men, ex-wives, porn, booze, low life and high class. Oh, and it is very, very funny.
his is the best novel of the year so far and is simply stunning in its execution and its style. Give it a go and swim in the pool of style and substance!
on 12 November 2015
Confusing, but (almost) always entertaining.
First off this is Martin Amis, so it must be judged by a different standard. Amis is one of the few writers who I will seek out and often read twice.
I've listened to 'Money' on Audible at least a dozen times. It is sublime.
Everything that could be said about 'Yellow Dog' has been said already by other reviewers. I especially like the Salvador Dali ditty.
Specifically re. Yellow Dog: the royal family strand to the novel does not sit well with gangster/porno vibe and the airplane crash is just plain (Amisesque homophonic quip there) incongruous - although I do appreciate the metaphor about male violence persisting beyond the grave.
Likewise... what is the relevance of the looming comet strand doing in this novel?
One frustrating Amis trait is his tendency to be abstract. While this keeps you guessing it can be downright confusing. Yellow Dog is full of examples: the eventual plane crash - what happened to the passengers? The blinding of Clint Smoker and his car crash - we can only guess what happened? We know the outcome, but not the exact events. Maybe I'm reading too fast!
Amis is always entertaining and that's surely the point. A novel is about entertainment. Amis is very entertaining.
This was the first time I've skipped a chapter in an Amis novel: a chapter about the fictitious royal family was simply boring and incredible.
The rest of the book was funny, clever, erudite and quite often brilliant.
Amis is at his best when he keeps it simple. Money: one central character, John Self; first person narrative: stream of consciousness.
But sometimes he's just too clever for the rest of us!