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The Book We're Talking About: 'Lionel Asbo: State of England' by Martin Amis

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"Lionel Asbo: State of England" by Martin Amis
Knopf, $25.95
August 21, 2012

What is it about?
Thematically similar to Amis's "Money," this book is the story of a British thug who wins the lottery, shedding light on what England's lower classes say about the state of the society as a whole.

Why are we talking about it?
Amis' name is a stand-out one, and any book by him seems worth checking out to us, especially since he's credited for influencing younger big-wigs like Zadie Smith and Will Self.

Who wrote it?
Martin Amis is the author of 12 other novels, including "Money," which was featured in TIME's "100 best English-language novels from 1923 to the present." His father, Kingsley Amis, is the author of the acclaimed "Lucky Jim." Martin was born in South Wales, graduated from Oxford, and went on to work at The Times Literary Supplement and, later, New Statesman, where he met life-long friend Christopher Hitchens.

Who will read it?
Amis fans; those interested in the negative influence of capitalism on society; those interested in postmodern writing; fans of satire; fans of Charles Dickens.

What do the reviewers say?
The New York Times: "Mr. Amis’s weary new novel, 'Lionel Asbo: State of England,' reads like a pallid variation on 'Money,' lightly seasoned with some Dickensian overtones. Though it’s set in the years 2006 to 2013, it feels oddly dated in comparison with 'Money.'"

Slate: "The title character of Martin Amis’ latest novel, Lionel Asbo, gets his name from an acronym used in the British criminal justice system that stands for “anti-social behavior order.” And Asbo’s thuggish ways are at the center of a grim underclass world Amis conjures for his 15th work of fiction, a biting satire about the current state of England."

Washington Post: "Does any other truly great writer make us wonder whether his brilliant parts are worth the wearisome whole?"

USA Today: "This is not the England put on display during the Summer Olympics, the England where the queen skydives out of helicopters with James Bond. Indeed, working-class Diston is too grim for even Blur, Kinks or Jam tunes; it's the kind of place where life expectancy caps out around 60, and only the unlucky stick around longer."

Impress your friends:
Martin Amis is often given the epithet of "bad boy" (he and his father BOTH made their way into Flavorwire's list of 10 literary rebels), so some may find it surprising that his earliest literary influence was none other than Jane Austen.

Opening line:
Dear Jennaveieve,
I'm having an affair with an older woman. She's a lady of some sophistication, and makes a refreshing change from the teen agers I know (like Alektra, for example, or Chanel.) The sex is fantastic, and I think I'm in love. But there's one serious complication, and i'ts this; shes' my Gran!

Notable passage:
They were enjoying their usual breakfast of sweet milky and Pop-Tarts (there were also a few tins of Cobra close to hand). Like Lionel's room, the kitchen was spacious, but it was dominated by two items of furniture that made it feel cramped. First, the wall-wide TV, impressive in itself but almost impossible to watch. You couldn't get far enough away from it, and the colours swam and everyone wore a wraithlike nimbus of white. Whatever was actually showing, Des always felt he was watching a documentary about the Ku Klux Klan.

Around the Web

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