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3.3 out of 5 stars
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3.3 out of 5 stars
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on 28 April 2017
Well written by Martin Amis and an entertaining read, although the subject material is hardly uplifting. On the contrary, such ignorance and stupidity as depicted comes as a mental burden and something of a pollutant to the reader.
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on 20 November 2013
The pretentious (just desperate?) sub-title of Martin Amis's latest novel is State of England; it might more fittingly have been State of Amis. Anyone expecting a Philip Roth of an analysis might consider taking out a private prosecution under the Trades Descriptions Act. What we're given in place of a State of the Nation novel is an unwitting self-accusation, an outing, a sordid strip tease performed by a paranoid narcissist oozing bile, misanthropy and exhaustion. The poverty of imagination and technique is surely terminal: the novel would never have been published had it not flourished the imprimatur of a once gifted writer. Reading this feeble stuff is a sad experience, like listening to the senile hiccupping of that oh so promising student who developed premature Alzheimer's.

Lionel Asbo is grotesque in the way the anti-Semitic fantasies of the Nazis were grotesque: a vicious kind of humour is attempted but not delivered partly because the writer's loathing of his subject matter so cripples his invention and disfigures his prose that we observe with horror not the improbable villainies and mindlessness of Lionel Asbo but the increasingly desperate antics of his worn-out creator. The book is like the transcript of a drunken dinner party where one unaccountably privileged senile grandee after another swaps ludicrous fantasies about the underclass whilst massaging the group's social and political prejudices. How funny is it to create a Wayne Rooney caricature and generate around him a society of thugs and perverts? It makes Swift look comparatively healthy.

In Diston- in Diston, everything hated everything else, and everything
else, in return hated everything back.

But in fact this manifesto turns out to be no more than a marginal bleat: we meet very few characters from Diston or anywhere else, and many of them are no more than names with interchangeable biographies, unrealised personalities and voices. Before long, the novel modulates into a modest romance, complete with a tepidly "happy" ending despite the laboured frighteners we've been saddled with for two hundred pages.

Oddly, the last part of the novel has the occasional paragraph of the searching prose we remember from the earlier, accomplished Amis. The sub-literate prose: it's Amis, not his character, who inserts those lame exclamation marks begging you to find something outrageous, side-splitting, worth a second glance. The writing is less distinguished than the tabloidese which it treats to token ridicule. But it's all very low-wattage, half-hearted stuff. In Money, the central character was funny because he found himself ridiculous. In this rant, the author is a figure of fun because he expects us to applaud his limitations.
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on 2 November 2016
Martin Amis: son of famous writer Sir Kingsley, who imagined jobs in academia were how everyone made a living; went to Westminster School (lived in Hampstead while he attended, as one does); Exeter College, Oxford; straight into the Times Literary Supplement for his first "job", though he is the Western hemisphere's most clueless individual about the world of real work (see 1975's Success); now resident in New York. How such a person from such a cossetted background thought he could write about council estate England is beyond me. The first few pages alone are cringe-making - cans of Cobra (it comes in bottles, as a reviewer here notes); The Faerie Queen gets a mention (MA can never stray far from his comfort zone); the language is all wrong - "You know that bloke I bashed up in the pub?"; "They are asking members of the public to fink on their own neighbours." "Bashed up"? "Fink"? I fink not. Martin, write about your own kind, OK, because this is just embarrassing. If you're serious about discovering the state of England via this route, as a serious artist would be, sign up with Community Service Volunteers and do a year on the Pembury Estate, or New Addington, then come back to us with something. Anyway, it's probably cocktail time at the Waldorf Astoria. Off you go.
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on 11 May 2013
After reading Money I became an Amis fan but am still waiting to read London Fields. The blurb on the back of Lionel Asbo suggested as simple a concept as the original, Money. Entertaining scumbag wins the lottery about summarises it.

Indeed money is pivotal to this book and those satisfied by "Money", should be well served here. I found the book more accessible as, although set in London, it is "Diston", the worst sink estate in England that provides the environs. While easier for big city types, accessibility is promoted through simply imagining a rough council estate near you. Diston is full of strange, extreme, desperate people and Amis describes them succinctly enough for the busiest, most distracted, reader to really care.

Asbo is a monster. The central charm of the novel is how his young charge, Des Pepperdine, shapes his own path. The classic "nature vs nurture" debate with a modern consideration of class mobility. I won't spoil the story but I enjoyed seeing this done without fabulous amounts of money, despite what the abstract might first have you imagine.

Upon reading other reviews I thought it wise to address the labelling of Amis as a bigot etc, by the national press. Asbo is not representing the working class, though he has/had a career in crime this does not qualify him as working class. I don't want to qualify the reasons and distinctions with the underclass, but that is what Asbo is, senseless and insensible to danger, living only for the moment, as shallow as a TV villain. While his "friends" and relatives are not strangers to honest labour, we can form no such judgements about them, only that they have the misfortune to know such a character as Asbo.
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on 16 June 2013
Having purchased this book yesterday morning, I read all day and into the night, and then I had nightmares. The story is horrible but it's written beautifully ( most of the time; there were parts that needed editing) and the writer has the ability to make the words dance. Its the juxtaposition of the plod plod of everyday living with the descriptions of acute beauty thats almost heartbreaking. But my enjoyment of the book was compromised early on as I could not stop thinking of the fate of the boy who disappeared, Rory, who haunted the book for me. Why didn't Des have more of a guilty conscience about him? Wasnt he complicit? Whenever I read a book by M Amis I'm aware that the impact of Times Arrow is influencing my reading in ways I don't fully understand: my first thought when I pick up an Amis book is, this is by the writer of Times Arrow, and then I read it in that context.
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on 13 August 2013
Synopsis/blurb.....
Lionel Asbo - a very violent but not very successful young criminal - is going about his morning duties in a London prison when he learns that he has just won £139,999,999.50 on the National Lottery. This is not necessarily good news for his ward and nephew, the orphaned Des Pepperdine, who still has reason to fear his uncle's implacable vengeance.
Savage, funny, and mysteriously poignant, Lionel Asbo is a modern fairytale from one of the world's great writers.
Well May's reading started with a bit of a damp squib. Having previously struggled valiantly with House of Meetings, been subsequently less tortured when reading The Pregnant Widow, albeit falling short of rapturous admiration for Amis, I had higher hopes for this one.
Not the worst book I have ever read, but when I'm long into my dotage, probably a couple of weeks or so from now, I reckon I will have banished this long from the memory. It wasn't that it was "bad", in the sense that it was awful, it was just fairly uninteresting. When you can't empathise with a character, you don't particularly care how he behaves and what the consequences of such behaviour are. I was bored and irritable when reading it, so bored I had to down tools halfway through and start another book, which by the way was only slightly less boring.
Back to Mr Asbo; an unsuccessful career criminal, from a deprived family, in a deprived area where everyone hates everything and everyone, and expresses the hate through violence and feckless sex and alcohol and drugs. Lionel's unmarried mother had her first child at 12 years of age and Lionel her 5th or 6th at..........zzzzzzz.
Oops sorry I dozed off there for a minute...............that's it in a nutshell.
I bored myself reading it, and I'm bored trying to write about it!
Highlights, at less than 300 pages long, I could have been more bored if he had dragged things out. Plus, I borrowed it from the library, so apart from the time wasted I didn't part with any cash for it. 2 minor plusses, and I'm grateful for small mercies.
On the basis that I didn't feel like sticking pins in my eyes when reading it, so it can't qualify as the worst ever book I have had the misfortune to read I will give it a 2 from 5.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 3 December 2012
Well, well, well. Lionel Asbo has certainly caused something of a stir amongst the Amazon reviewing community. For what it's worth - and this review will be so far down as to never be seen - I found it to be Shamelessly enjoyable.

Film and tv viewers of such programmes as Shameless are certainly inured to seeing (hmm, how shall I put this?) the underclass (if that would be acceptable?) portrayed on the screen. But in a book, not so much. Martin Amis clearly had fun writing this and why should he not? We all have the right to write what we like these days so I really don't see why he should be decried for doing so. Why the fuss?

Bad luck for Amis, though, that the publication of this book more or less coincided with the government's announcement of a proposal to replace ASBOs with a "criminal behaviour order" (nicknamed "crimbo" in the media). Thus, the moment the book came out, it appeared to be immediately behind the zeitgeist. Timing is everything. But it doesn't really matter whether the book is relevant to our times or whether it tells us anything about the state of the nation. The question is: is it a good read? For my money, the book is a blast.

Others have covered the plot but it bears repeating that the main protagonist, violent, amoral Uncle Li, lacks a single redeeming quality; you have to be prepared for the fact that there are no concessions to likeability here. Then there's his mum who has a penchant for young boys and the Telegraph cryptic crossword. His long-suffering, academically brilliant nephew Des, the moral heart of the book. Plus sundry other unsavoury characters whose names are a hoot (as you'd expect from Amis). And then there are the dogs.

Jokes, when they come, are laugh out loud funny and the writing is glorious. Exuberant, even. The thing about Martin Amis never writing a cliché has, in itself, become a cliché. Oh, the irony.
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on 25 June 2012
To write about the Underclass, a writer must surely have some knowledge or experience of it, even if all it amounts to is a week or two hanging out in some low-life pub. I'm not going to give a summary of the plot: there are some excellent ones here already. I'll just say that the plot is an engaging one, and Amis a consummate storyteller. Where he falls down, in my opinion, is that he doesn't make me believe in his characters. It's not clear whether he intends them to be outlandish caricatures of benefits scroungers, thugs and teenage mothers. (David Cameron and George Osborne may have picked up their ideas from the same sources.)"Lionel Asbo" is also full of anachronisms. For example, at what sink comprehensive were boys wearing shorts and purple blazers as recently as 2006? Surely a 15-year-old has a mobile phone, even if s/he has nothing else? (Most of the 8-year-olds I know have them.) The book sometimes reads like a poor, contrived pastiche of Dickens, funny surnames, street names and all. Where Amis excels is in his ability to convey a character's physical features in a small number of words, and his beautiful use of simile and metaphor: the sun, in one passage, is fixed in the sky like a gilt tack. "Lionel Asbo" is an enjoyable read, but that isn't enough. I failed to engage with his characters; they seemed rather pathetic, and in the end I didn't really care what happened to them.
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on 13 August 2013
People do go on (and on (and on)) about Martin Amis: he's politically incorrect, we're told... he has reactionary political opinions (not the same thing BTW), he's misogynistic, he's a condescending snob, he hates his own country... and on and on...

The fact remains that he's one of the most accomplished English writers of his generation. Money and London Fields are among the best English novels of the later years of the twentieth century; before them, The Rachel Papers was a remarkable debut novel, published while Amis was still in his early-to-mid twenties. The rot set in with Yellow Dog in 2003, cruelly lambasted as being "not-knowing-where-to-look bad" by Tibor Fischer in the Daily Telegraph. (If you've heard of, and maybe read, Martin Amis, but not heard of, and let alone read, Tibor Fischer, you can draw the appropriate conclusions...)

Lionel Asbo: State of England begins with fifteen-year-old Desmond Pepperdine confessing, in a letter to a tabloid agony aunt, that he's been having an inappropriate relationship with his grannie. (Who's all of thirty-nine.) This is the subtitular "state of England", established via this striking and extreme caricature of how the moral compasses have all gone decidedly wonky. (Grannie gave birth to Cilla, Desmond's mother, at the age of twelve, and Cilla produced Desmond at the same age, and later died in a freak accident.)

And yet Desmond, who thus lost his mother before he was a teenager (and of course never knew his father), will make his way in life, and become a (tabloid) journalist. And be set in contrast with his uncle, the Lionel Asbo of the title, a severely psychotic hooligan with whom he shares a flat on the thirty-third floor of a tower block, and whose communication with his nephew takes the form of rhetorical questions such as "Why aren't you out smashing windows?"

Lionel goes on to win £140,000,000 (all but 50p, to be fastidiously precise) on the lottery, and the novel then develops into a devastating satire on celebrity and various kinds of excess. And loutishness. And false tits. And the way that money, unsurprisingly, does not buy happiness. Or love.

Lionel. "Loyonoo"... And there's also "Mao" (i.e. Lionel's mate Mal.) As ever, Amis is spot-on in his dissection of the ways people speak, the ways in which they use and abuse language. (Another clear example: "Get you fat prat in that sauna!") The prose is often laugh-out-loud - as are the multiple mishaps. It's perhaps not quite in the league of its brilliant predecessor, The Pregnant Widow, but's it's still the best novel I've read this year. And Martin Amis is the most accomplished writer around today, whether you like it or not. And whether you like him or not.

*****
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on 12 April 2014
It would be sacrilege not to give Lionel ASBO 5 stars. Amis is a master of his craft. Lionel ASBO is an inspired creation. The story here is a metaphor for the victory of money (and celebrity) over everything: pecunia rex est. Lionel is a cliche, a stereotype, a criminal who is proud of his criminality. His class is criminal. Jail is nothing to Lionel. He enjoys it. He's a sociopath, a psychopath: selfish, violent, vindictive and he bears a grudge like his celebrity page 3 GF bares her fake boobs - with enthusiasm and pride.
Lionel accidentally wins the lottery and this simply gives him a license to misbehave on a grand scale. It deserves a movie adaptation and it's easy to see Ray Winston or Bob Hoskins (in their youth) in the role of Lionel. These days, Plan B would my first choice.
The anti-hero takes little pleasure from his 140 million + fortune. A jungle predator enjoys the hunt, the battle for survival and Lionel is soon back in his old manor up to his tricks, just for kicks.
There are moment of great humour. When his concubine Threnody (a page 3 porn star with more plastic surgery than Action Man or more appropriately Barbie) is rushed to hospital by air ambulance there is talk of her 'fake arse having exploded!' (Threnody has 'blown more on her arse than her tits' Lionel muses in an earlier chapter).
Nothing is perfect of course and my main criticism is that Amis makes Lionel too likeable. In my experience such people are monsters with little or no redeeming qualities; there is nothing likeable about these nasty misanthropes. Of course writing about violent, nasty psychopaths is very depressing so I guess the author needed to make us sympathise with El ASBO to keep our attention.
Lionel ASBO is like Amis' MONEY. It's a page turner. I read it in 48 hours.
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