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3.3 out of 5 stars
3.3 out of 5 stars
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on 30 August 2012
Lionel Asbo is an oik and although he wins the lottery he remains essentially the same in and out of prison. He wins a lot of money and the floodgates of wealth open, but the style and behaviour of the past rear the ugly heads. He is just able to indulge his vendettas on a grander scale using fear and prostitution to meet his own ends. Nobody seems able to escape his malign influence. Not even Desmond and Dawn with their university degrees, parental skills and careers.
Before reading it I had hoped for some kind of insight into the underclass, some sort of grid reference beyond the expected drunkenness, aimless violence and pornography. After all Martin Amis has deigned to write a novel about it and I thought he might throw up some redeeming half light, some forgotten truths perhaps. But he is able to evade that responsibility, that particular challenge, by letting Asbo win the lottery. From then on the task of the novellist is easier, the theme of mispent wealth overtakes and smothers the theme of coping and managing in a misbegotten and downtrodden place like Diston Town.
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on 30 November 2014
A remarkably tedious tale demonstrating the arrogance of the metropolitan elite (novelists section). A very silly name for the main character and a as a reader I got remarkably annoyed by the author whose faults seem greater than those of Mr Asbo.
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on 15 July 2013
For my money, Martin Amis is an brilliant essayist and I sometimes found myself wishing that rather than writing this novel, he'd written the essay instead.

First of all, the title. To me a title like "Lionel Asbo" speaks for itself and tacking on "State of England" is unnecessary and uncharacteristically clunky. Shot through with some passages of great lyricism, and some of tenderness when he writes about babies, I often found it flat, though oddly mesmeric - perhaps a bit like reading The Sun. I found myself developing an affection for Lionel himself: like the affecton for Dennis the Menace or Desperate Dan. Indeed, the novel often seemed to me to be more comic book in novel form than satire. I rapidly became innured to violence, incest and "underclass" mores as they are portrayed in the novel. They began to have the same impact as seeing "action" bubbles in The Beano ("POW!" "CRUUNCH!"). Perhaps the effect is intentional? Maybe we are all so punch drunk on our daily diet of reported rape, murder, incest and celebrated nonentities, etc., etc., that nothing surprises us any more. We should be shocked at the state of England, but this just numbs.

Other reviewers have mentioned Dickens, and most of the characters in Lionel Asbo, especially Lionel himself, are Dickensian grotesques, to me unrelieved by any character of recognisably average, human dimension, except perhaps for baby Cilla. What makes Dickens' grotesques so appalling is that they are contrasted with believable characters. However, like Dickens, with London fogs and mud in Bleak House, Amis paints a picture of the London skies, Diston air ("...a mist of grit, the texture of gauze, with motes, blind spots, puckerings, like vaccination scars...") and the crampedness of the flat in Avalon Towers which provides a steadying influence, a down-to-earthness, and depth. These are characters, too.

I found this a very patchy novel, but one with some fine writing. But, unrelieved Dickensian grotesquery channeling Hogarth, MAC and The Beano seemed at odds with the lyricism and sure-footedness of many descriptive passages, and yet paradoxically it is here that the novel also finds its anchorage. Perhaps we have all become cartoon characters roaming a blighted but infintely more real landscape. Martin Amis certainly makes you think.
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on 11 December 2014
I read this book as I was doing a study at the time on English Country Houses as a metaphor for the state of the nation and a book about a man who buys a country pile after winning the lottery entitled "Lionel Asbo: State of the Nation" seemed pertinent. It was useful to the study and shows nicely how the country house as a setting in literature continues to be a convenient box to shove all kinds of themes into, It was also a bit disappointing. I liked Des (what's not to like) mainly because the author intended we like him. I hated Lionel (what is to like?) mainly because the author intends we hate him. I could also see that Lionel was a kind of emblem for a certain aspect of England in our time. However, there was equally something I didn't like about this book as a work of fiction - it read as a bit artificial to me - Lionel was too much, and it was all a bit overkill. I kept waiting and waiting for justice to find Lionel, but it never did. Even when justice did catch up with him and he went to prison, Lionel was glad to be there, because it was a good place to sort his head out ("Prison, said Lionel. Good place to get you head sorted out. You know where you are in prison. Well yeah, thought Des. You're in prison." p. 123. I also kept waiting for the storyline to develop around the character who Lionel organised to be "sold" (his name escapes me, sorry) but it never did. The ending was unsatisfactory (probably because it wasn't neat enough for me). I know some people will say that there's something wrong with expecting a neat ending in a world which is less than satisfactory - but I do like to have that happy ending in fiction - as, even today, I think most people do. This wasn't for me - it was too bleak, too grubby and too messy. Still, it was an interesting spin on country house fiction.
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Got this as a long time Amis fan, though with some reservations about his output from the last 10 years or so.

This book tells the story of Lionel Asbo (nee Pepperdine). A council estate petty thug, I found him a good character. While clearly a usual Amis anti hero, other reviews had made him out to be an uninteresting caricature. There might be an element of that, but with Amis' wonderful, humorous writing, it's hard not to find him entertaining, and his reactions to his lottery windfall is funny and believable.

The rest of the characters are also quite good, though probably don't get fleshed out enough. The running Marlon/Gina subplot is entertaining, I loved it when Lionel demanded he meet his nephew to discuss his "sexuality".

Unfortunately, although I thoroughly enjoyed the book, I can't quite give it 5 stars, and put it up there with my Amis favourites, Money and The Information. There just isn't quite enough meat to the book - simply in terms of volume, it's fairly lightweight, and as a result, there is something a bit unsatisfying when you get to the end. I actually quite liked the ending, I just mean I felt that you get there a bit too quickly.

In summary - a very enjoyable, beautifully written Martin Amis novel, which doesn't sit beside his very best work, but given how high that bar is, is still very good.
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on 18 October 2012
I think this book has been unfairly criticized. Agree that it's not as sharp as Money or London Fields. Likewise, it's not as poignant or expansive as The Pregnant Widow. But it's certainly no turkey, like Yellow Dog was. It's a funny, clever satire that examines celebrity, wealth, class, family, and relationships in 21st-century England. It's a state-of-the-nation novel that contains some dazzling phrases and sentences.

While there are motifs repeated from his other books, he does this so well that it doesn't matter. And he never resorts to cliché.

Is it among his very best? No. Is it worth reading? Yes.
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on 15 October 2012
Anyone who professes they do not care about the characters might wish to take a second, closer look at what they represent. Starting from the brilliant caricature that is Lionel Asbo, MA takes a masterful swipe at much of today's undeserved, chancy wealth and boiler plate celebrity. Through Lionel Asbo we catch glimpses of the nature of the sociopath and the psycopath that resides in the personalities of some of the moneyed elite roaming London's power corridors today. UK's uniquely tabloid press don't get off lightly either as a minor, but important villain in the book. From the ugliness, however, emerges a sliver of hope in life, love and trust. Until the book hurtles towards its inevitable stomach churning conclusion. I laughed a lot too. A modern day classic which should be read in decades to come of an important old civilisation that sold itself to the highest bidder.
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on 9 September 2014
I listened to this in the audio book version and loved it. Huge entertainment that I would recommend to anyone who can stomach the visceral parodies that Amis serves up. He's so admirably clever, but in this novel I didn't find it alienating at all. I wasn't so enamoured by the denouement and lost a bit of my love for it, but a year on I remember much of it with intense glee and would recommend you too give it a go.
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on 27 March 2013
This is a genuine question. My first reaction--clearly shared by many other reviewers--was that he has completely lost the plot. Unlike Amis, I live in central London, and until recently worked with adolescents. The portrayal of characters and social context bear no relationship to reality--or rather, a grossly distorted one. This horror of working class urban life seems to run through Amis's work--perhaps he ought to try living somewhere really tough!

and yet....I didn't throw the book aside in disgust, though I was tempted to after fifty pages or so. His plotting and writing are sufficiently engaging to keep the reader interested. It appears to me that he's attempting a Dickensian approach: social satire by exaggeration and caricature. There are three reasons why this doesn't work:
1) although a lively and inventive writer, he's no genius
2) Dickens did at least know the world he depicted at first hand
3) Although Dickens is marred by sentimentality, this at least suggests some generosity of spirit, which Amis (or his authorial persona) seems mostly lacking in.

That said, it's not a waste of time. Over the past few years, there's been a lot of Amis-baiting, but at least he writes lively and accessible novels that don't play safe.
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on 5 April 2015
I might have given three stars if this had been a new author trying to make his or her mark on the fictional world of the nasty underclass in England. But Martin Amis I expected more from. I see a few reviews cite it as funny and hilarious but I found it tiresome, with a weak plot and unbelievable characters. I liked Des but became increasingly irritated by his inability to shake off the lowlife standards of his family. I wanted a different story. I wanted Des to break out and refuse to be complicit in his Uncle's way of life. The whole family is portrayed as victims. I want to see them turn the tables on him but at page 151 nothing is happening. I have been waiting for something to happen. Perhaps Des could have ensured his grandmother was not sent to a home in the north of Scotland where visiting was impossible and championed her placement locally. The conflict between Li and the rest of the family would have made a great read. I have been spoilt with fantastic reads this year. Sorry but I just didn't 'get it'.
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