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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 ,, 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 VengeanceSavage, Funny, And Mysteriously Poignant, Lionel Asbo Is A Modern Fairytale From One Of The World S Great Writers If your experience of 21st century culture includes a lot of reality television, tabloid scandal, celebrity expos , paparazzi photos atrocious lapses that center on race, sport, wardrobe, sex, cosmetic surgery, drunk driving, pit bulls, lavish overspending anything crassly vulgar and exploitative you probably still won t like this novel, but you ll get a lot of what you like along the way And Martin Amis doesn t want you to like it he wants it to stand as an aggressive, warts plus documentary of our hyperbolic times Which I suppose it does, but it makes for an annoyingly obvious kind of read If you have to stand up and point at the Donald Trump Sarah Palin Jerry Springer sort of pop vulgarism, and announce that you think it s in really poor taste, dangerous, even maybe you re not breaking new ground Maybe you re stating the obvious In the lurid, over the top fashion that it deserves, perhaps, but who really wants to immerse themselves in this embarrassing material That there is a subset of consumers who do immerse themselves in this kind of thing is sad, and I would expect that the participants in this business aren t feeling very honorable about it But beyond the initial trainwreck shock factor, the grand guignol distastefulness of it all, why, Martin Amis, would you want to spend time analyzing it Not me Dumpster. This book made me such a nervous wreck that I developed a facial tic and had to take antacids while I was reading it.Desmond Pepperdine is a 15 year old lad living in a very rough part of England where life expectancies are short and violence is common Des is a bright and gentle boy with a big secret His 39 year old grandmother Grace has seduced him, and Des is worried that his uncle Lionel will find out.Lionel took Des in after his mother died a few years earlier Des loves Uncle Li , but he s also terrified of him He should be Lionel is the kind of guy who laces his pit bulls food with Tabasco to make them meaner, and he took such pride in being the youngest person to ever receive an Anti Social Behavior Order after a violent spree at age 3 that he had his name legally changed to Asbo He ll put a man in the hospital over some perceived grievance and then complain when his victim has the nerve to file a complaint with the police.As a career criminal specializing in loan shark collection and reselling stolen goods, Lionel is constantly in and out of jail Lionel also has a strict policy that his mom is too old to be dating men, and he doesn t like it when he hears from a neighbor that Grace has been seeing someone Des keeps his mouth shut as Lionel finds another young man to blame and forces Des to help him get his revenge.Years pass as Des lives with his secrets and tries to establish a quiet normal life by going to college and getting a girlfriend He still lives with Lionel but with him always in jail, Des usually has the place to himself However, after Lionel wins a small fortune in the lottery, he becomes a tabloid sensation Unfortunately, becoming wealthy does nothing to make Lionel Asbo a better person, and dealing with his whims and moods becomes an even worse minefield for Des.The odd thing is that Lionel doesn t seem quite as monstrous as he should Amis does a nice job of depicting the affection that Des has for his uncle even as he has absolutely no illusions as to what Lionel is With Des s secret about Grace and Lionel s skewed logic regarding right and wrong, every conversation between the two has an underlying tension that really got to me after a while And the ending nearly killed me view spoiler I wasn t sure whether I was relieved or angry about the plot twist when it turned out the baby was safe after the extended wringer Amis put us through to learn the final outcome hide spoiler In 1998, British Government under Tony Blair introduced the Anti Social Behaviour Order ASBO an act which meant to correct minor incidents which would normally not result in criminal punishment from loudswearing, loitering and beging to public sex and even urban exploration During the general elections of 2010, future Prime Minister David Cameron promixed to fix Broken Britain , and after taking office spoke eloquently but harshly about what he perceived to be failure of multiculturalism can you imagine the American president doing the same In July 2011, a high selling tabloid The News of The World has been shut down and its staff took under investigation for allegedly illegal obtainment of information including hacking into the phones of familes of British soldiers killed in action In August of the same year riots shook the city of London, engulfing the metropolis in violence and chaos photographs of burning double decked red buses remain a haunting image In 2012 Martin Amis left London for Brooklyn and published his latest novel, Lionel Asbo The State of England He dedicated the novel to Christopher Hitchens, who was a close friend curiously it is the second novel dedicated to Hitchens that I ve read in a row the previous one being Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan, which I revieved here.Some critics and readers felt that publishing a satirical and critical novel about the State of The Nation and then escaping from the mentioned nation was a real dick move, a betrayal of the country that bred and fed not only him but also Darwin, Dickens and Churchill and holds the world record for the largest empire Amis has been criticized for exploiting the theme of the underclass from high horse, and running away across the pond much like a boy who has just done some mischief hides from his enraged mum There might be truth to that who am I to judge but I think that the author has reached the level where he doesn t pay attention to the critics who grieve that his latest novel is not the same as the novel that they most enjoyed he just kick backs and writes what he wants to write.The fact is visible in Lionel Asbo, where is is evident that Amis is in many ways, as my English friends would say it, taking the piss The novel has two main characters Lionel Asbo, who is a Chav Proper and deals with extortion along with other shady matters, and is genuinely proud of his achievements almost complete lack of education and the record for being the youngest person ever to be given a Restraining Directive an ASBO, at the tender age of three His pride is such that he officially changed his name to Asbo from Pepperdine because it was a crap name anyhow and speaks of the time he spent in prison with tenderness, as someone could speak about college or graduate school He ends up in prison most of the time, but does not mind a man knows where he is when he is in prison and has two pitbulls, whom he feeds steaks bathed in tabasco sauce to make them feel the combatative mood, as they are the tools of his trade The original UK edition, published by Jonathan Cape, has this convincing illustration of him on the cover Contrasted with him is Des Pepperdine, his younger nephew in 2006, when the novel opens Des 15 and a half and Lionel is 21 who is under his uncle s care, as his mother has died Des has never known his father once, when he is a boy and walks with his mother she spots him sitting on a bench, but he appears to be dead so they go away and is a quiet boy whom Lionel tries to educate about the way of life in Diston, a fictional borough of London where nobody lives past 60 and 40 is considered old age Lionel educates Des about the merits of benefit scrounging and how to not fall of the dole, how to feed the dogs to make them agressive enough and of the necessity of carrying a knife, and wonders why Des enjoys going to school instead of breaking a window like any normal boy What Lionel does not know that Des is having an affair with his grandmother who gave birth to his own mother when she was just 12, and birthed seven children in total and deadly afraid of what his uncle will do if he finds out So much, that he decides to stage a character and write to the local columnist about it and ask for advice and then Lionel wins 140 million pounds in the lotteryAmis certainly has his fun with both Lionel and Des and other characters whose names are a hoot , but his portrayal of them did not feel exploitative I would say quite the opposite he portrays Lionel with tenderness that he never gave him in his fictional world Lionel Asbo in his own way does the right thing he takes his young nephew under his wing and cares for him the only way he knows how his reputation protects him from bullies, and provides for his well being In a place where everything hated everything , Lionel Asbo is what he is a baby Asbo, someone born in a sequence of someones who will grow up and die and often never experience everything else He is a patriot, woving never to leave England well, maybe with a small exception for a trip to Scotland or Wales and understandably so the environment is deeply rooted in him as he is in it Although he is presented with a literal miracle an impossible amount of money almost literally falling from the sky it does not prove to be the way out if anything, it can only turn into a tragedy Although the novel is very funny and outlandish in many places it is after all a satire, a fairy tale which is purposefully larger than life it is also surprisingly poignant and touching As Lionel becomes the source of media attention which justifies the US cover by Knopf, which is stylized to resemble a tabloid the novel does not lose its satirical punch but grows and serious, with an inevitable air of tragedy hanging in the air I will not reveal whether it occurs, or whether any of the characters achieve any sort of solace, as this would be spoiling a novel which I found to be surprisingly good in spite of all the negative reviews After putting it down In England and abroad , many readers will look around themselves, asking the question with which Amis opens his book and which resonates throughout it in many ways Who let the dogs inDave Henson also has also some great songs about football or soccer, if you prefer I heartily recommend At Least We re Not As Bad As France, The Vuvuzela Song, Evaluate The Last Four and others on his channel Lionel Asbo is a bad thief He spends long stretches in jail He s in and he s out, a recidivist Lionel s nephew, Desmond, is at fifteen years of age seduced by his grandmother, Grace, thirty nine It is Des s guilt about this incestuous relationship, and his fear of what Uncle Li lie not lee might do if he finds out, that shapes Des s character in early adulthood, which is pretty much the span of the novel Fortunately, Gran breaks off the affair with Des in order to seduce a fourteen year old Right, a younger man This fellow goes by the name of Rory Nightingale and Lionel does discover his affair with Gran Of course, Des is both crushed and relieved to hear the news Then Lionel wins a 140 million state lottery, providing much needed distraction for poor Des But then Des and his new love, Dawn, have a marvelously described baby Cilla Fantastic description of this baby and much else which serves only to redouble his anxiety Martin Amis writes with all the skill and assurance we re accustomed to from so many other fine books, but his style here is as compressed as I ve ever seen it There are many beautifully compressed pages in Amis Night Train, to cite just one example, springs most readily to mind Amis has always been a great admirer of Vladimir Nabokov, but I think this is the first time he s written a book that echoes that master s peculiarly arch, lean, and very compressed method so well I speak here merely in terms of narrative compression, mind you, not style Amis style is unique As in the unjustly maligned Yellow Dog and to a limited extent in London Fields, he has a field day with British dialect and slang He s a master of it, of that there s no question However, his penchant dialect and slang can really slow down the non British reader Agreed, not every book should go down like Simenon, but having to Google a few references every page can be a drag Now, do most people read as closely as I do Nah But I do If we are to view the novel as dream, these unquestionably enriching quirks of Amis s, it can be argued, slow the dream down, inhibit it It s too bad, especially in a book that is in every other respect so sprightly, so headlong and fun I don t fault Amis He can only write what he can write However, my own favorite Amis novels have much less such encryption Money, The Zone of Interest, The Information, House of Meetings and London Fields Highly recommended.