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Lionel Asbo: State of Englandby Martin Amis
Synopses & Reviews
An exuberant, acidic satire of modern society and celebrity culture — by a renowned author at the height of his powers.
Young Desmond Pepperdine desires nothing more than books to read and a girl to love. Unfortunately for him, he's the ward of his uncle, Lionel Asbo (self-named after England's infamous Anti-Social Behaviour Orders), a terrifying yet oddly principled thug who's determined to teach him the joys of pit bulls (fed with lots of Tabasco sauce), internet porn ("me love life"), and all manner of more serious criminality. But just as Desmond begins to lead a gentler, healthier life, Lionel wins £139 million in the lottery, hires a public-relations firm, and begins dating a cannily ambitious topless model and poet. Strangely, however, Lionel remains his vicious, weirdly loyal self, while his problems as well as Desmond's seem only to multiply.
"If there's a more depraved human being than the title character of Martin Amis's savagely funny new novel, Lionel Asbo: State of England, you do not want to meet him. Like earlier Amis creations Keith Talent (London Fields) and John Self (Money), Asbo's very name (ASBO is the U.K. acronym for Anti-Social Behavior Order) is a tipoff of the author's intent. And like those earlier Amis novels, Lionel Asbo: State of England crackles with brilliant prose and scathing satire. Lionel first runs afoul of the law at the age of three years, two days ('a national record') for throwing bricks through car windows. By 21, he's a vicious criminal who raises pitbulls on a diet of Tabasco Sauce and malt liquor and terrorizes his seedy London neighborhood. So far so Amis. So who could predict that, from this delightfully nasty setup, an author the New York Times once called 'fiction's angriest writer' would craft a novel so... Dickensian, a novel with such... I hate to even say it... heart. That's because Lionel Asbo: State of England also features a hopeful, lovable orphan in need of a benefactor, Lionel's nephew Desmond Pepperdine. And when Lionel wins £140 million in the national lottery, what follows is hilarious and strangely compelling — a gleefully twisted Great Expectations. Lionel's family tree is a tangle of early breeding: his mum, Grace, had seven children by the age of 19: a girl, Cilla, then five boys named after Beatles (the last is named Stuart Sutcliffe) and, finally, Lionel. Only Cilla and Lionel have the same father, so, despite the age difference, the bookended siblings are known as 'the twins.' Des is Cilla's boy and when she dies young, Lionel is left to raise his smart, sensitive nephew, who is only six years younger than him. Lionel takes to his new role, encouraging Des to put down his schoolbooks and go break windows with his mates. Then Lionel gets rich and becomes a tabloid sensation, the Lottery Lout. He lives large, hires a publicist, and starts a phony relationship with one of those beautiful, boring women famous for being famous (think: a British Kardashian.) Wealthy Lionel is even worse than poor Lionel; boorish, brutal, wistful for his old life. 'Not happy. Not sad. Just numb,' as he describes himself. 'The only time I know I'm breathing is when I'm doing some skirt.' Amis adopts a big, playful storytelling voice in this book. He riffs like a jazz master, in and out of vernacular, with brief gusts of description, all driven by a tight bass line of suspense. You see, Des is hiding a secret and if Lionel finds out... well, let's just say it would be better if Lionel does not find out. A double-edged question holds this terrific, lithe novel: will it be the fabulously wealthy Lionel who takes care of Des, or the sociopath? Reviewed by Jess Walter, who is the author of six novels, most recently Beautiful Ruins (Harper 2012). He won the 2005 Edgar Award for his novel Citizen Vince." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
“Amis’ phenomenal vim and versatility, anchoring roots in English literature, and gift for satire power this hilariously Dickensian, nerve-racking, crafty, bull’s eye tale of a monster and a mensch....This deliciously shivery, sly, and taunting page-turner provokes a fresh assessment of the poverty of place, mind, and spirit and the wondrous blossoming of against-all-odds goodness.” Donna Seaman, Booklist
"Despite a time frame that gallops forward into 2013 and a wealth of irresistibly hyperbolized pop cultural references, Lionel Asbo is at heart an old-fashioned novel, earnest in its agenda...a theme familiar to the audience of Amis's forebear, Dickens: the corrupting influence of money....Amis is, like Dickens, an insistently moral writer, satire being an edifying genre with a noble cause: the improvement of society." Kathryn Harris, The New York Times Book Review
"[Set in] the kind of place a 21st-century Dickens might conjure up, 'where calamity made its rounds like a postman.' ...Deploying his accomplished satirical gifts with surgical skill, Amis delivers a grimly humorous portrayal [of] the sometimes inexplicable bonds that tie family members to each other and the ways we can love against all our better instincts....With wit and style, Martin Amis shows us that money changes everything and nothing." Harvey Freedenberg, Shelf Awareness
A savage, funny, and mysteriously poignant saga by a renowned author at the height of his powers.
Lionel Asbo, a terrifying yet weirdly loyal thug (self-named after England's notorious Anti-Social Behaviour Order), has always looked out for his ward and nephew, the orphaned Desmond Pepperdine. He provides him with fatherly career advice (always carry a knife, for example) and is determined they should share the joys of pit bulls (fed with lots of Tabasco sauce), Internet porn, and all manner of more serious criminality. Des, on the other hand, desires nothing more than books to read and a girl to love (and to protect a family secret that could be the death of him). But just as he begins to lead a gentler, healthier life, his uncle—once again in a London prison—wins £140 million in the lottery and upon his release hires a public relations firm and begins dating a cannily ambitious topless model and “poet.” Strangely, however, Lionel's true nature remains uncompromised while his problems, and therefore also Desmond's, seem only to multiply.
About the Author
Martin Amis is the author of twelve previous novels, the memoir Experience, two collections of stories and six of nonfiction, most recently The Second Plane. He lives in Brooklyn.
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