"Lionel Asbo: State of England" by Martin Amis
Martin Amis has been called a lot of things in his career; ‘the best writer of his generation,’ ‘literature’s bad boy,’ and…well, probably Marty. I’ve read a couple of his books before and enjoyed them very much. I’m also a fan of his father Kingsley Amis, so suffice to say, my expectations going into his newest book were high. His newest book is Lionel Asbo: State of England.
Lionel Asbo is what could only be described as a chav. He lives in the hellish London suburb of Diston, doesn’t really seem to have a job, has been in and out of prison his entire life, and uses a dialect of English almost unrecognizable to the average Anglophone. Most of the book focuses on Lionel’s relationship with his nephew/adopted son Desmond, a boy not without his own troubles, but with a real possibility of escaping from Diston.
Things turn around for old Lionel however, after he wins 140 Million in the lottery. But that isn’t to suggest this is just another rags to riches story. Instead it looks at how Lionel’s relationships change, or more often than not, do not change, because of his new found wealth. But one could also say it is a scathing look at the state of the lower-class or the under-educated in England; a group often through no fault of their own, that finds themselves in quite dire circumstances, lost in a sea of ignorance.
Or maybe I’m just reading too much into it?
As far as story goes, Lionel Asbo is a good and interesting story, and a unique twist on the typical rags to riches scenario. There are a couple of very interesting characters, especially Desmond, who grows into quite a person as the novel progresses, and most importantly, seems very real. But at the same time, many of the secondary characters are flat, even clichéd, and Lionel himself never really develops, or at least Amis doesn’t really explore his development. Perhaps that was the point, with Amis saying some people are ‘beyond repair,’ but I felt he could have been a little more dynamic, and we should have been given a deeper look at him.
I guess at the end of the day though, this book suffers from high expectations. I read Amis’ breakout novel, Money, a couple of months ago, and was thoroughly impressed. It’s an excellent read, with great characters, and explores some quite complex themes. It was included on Time Magazine’s list off 100 All Time Novels, a is very deserving of the accolade. Money put Amis on the literary map, and cemented his reputation as a great author. But it also meant that going into Lionel Asbo, I was expecting much of the same, and it simply couldn’t deliver.