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The War Against Cliché: Essays and Reviews 1971-2000
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The War Against Cliché: Essays and Reviews 1971-2000

4.06 of 5 stars 4.06  ·  rating details  ·  848 ratings  ·  53 reviews

Like John Updike, Martin Amis is the pre-eminent novelist-critic of his generation. The War Against Cliché is a selection of his reviews and essays over the past quarter-century. It contains pieces on Cervantes, Milton, Donne, Coleridge, Jane Austen, Dickens, Kafka, Philip Larkin, Joyce, Waugh, Lowry, Nabokov, F. R. Leavis, V. S. Pritchett, William Burroughs, Anthony Burge

Kindle Edition, 528 pages
Published (first published January 26th 2001)
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Jun 02, 2011 Jessica rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: book-readers; rabid fans of the english language
Here's another piece about that chick who's dying in her bookstore because, according to the NYRB, she's allergic to Martin Amis. Poor girl... Well, I have my problems too, sister, but I don't have yours. I'm not allergic to Martin Amis. I am addicted to Martin Amis.

Those of my Booksters who have known me too long now are aware that I have a very serious and embarrassing Martin Amis Problem. It reminds one of youthful compulsions towards hedonism, vice, wildly inappropriate men, and all those th...more
Lately, I've got criticism on my mind. Although I've been a lifelong consumer of reviews, in especial those of the projected screen and the written page—indeed, a quick estimate would have to place the ratio of content of which I've partaken solely of the review and not the material under discussion (movies loom large here) in the neighborhood of ten-to-one—I've tended to avoid collections featuring critiques of the same, perhaps of a part with my anxiety over becoming lost—and, hence, burning t...more
I have no idea what ever convinced me to stay away from Martin Amis' work for so long. I'm in awe of his self-deprecating genius for words.

These essays and reviews cover a large span of years but retain the same silky-sounding tone throughout.

Who are Amis' personal gods: Nabokov and Bellow (and possibly Joyce). It's a good list, and these authors continually crop up, and their influence is palpable in his own style, particularly in the case of Nabokov. The shining, serene sentence is what seem...more
I dare you to get through 5 sentences of Amis without having to look up a word. I also dare you to show that he could have used another word.

I think Amis is the most incisive critic I know. And a master of verbal logistics. And someone with sentiment, and unabashed sensitivity. How can you skewer your subject (target) so deftly and yet be so soft?

Oh. And anyone that likes to think, to juxtapose, to discover, to parry... you'll be laughing out loud at least once per page.
the most sheerly fun book of criticism (journalistic cricitism, not scholarly stuff) I've ever read.

Shaped a lot of my current feelings about the relationship between reader and writer, and the manner in which a reader can claim his or her own portion of the literary conversation.

Quote to live by: "All writing is a campaign against cliche."
Aug 20, 2007 Jonathan rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who hate cliches and are open to the prospect of war against them
Martin Amis is smarter than you.
Amis's book of essays and reviews is funny and astute. It's also full of the kind of contrarian pronouncements that I sometimes take a secret delight in. Here, for instance, Amis dares to hint that nobody really reads Ulysses anymore:

"What, nowadays, is the constituency of Ulysses? Who reads it? Who curls up with Ulysses? It is thoroughly studied, it is exhaustively unzipped and unseamed, it is much deconstructed. But who reads Ulysses for the hell of it? I know a poet who carries Ulysses around...more
The great thing about starting a "war against cliche" is that it's so catchy. Why write a book about how to avoid cliches when you can let loose the dogs of war and lay down some shock and awe.

Since we're going to war and all's fair in love and war, we need to get some things straight. First, let's remember what we've learned from the movies.

1) You're very likely to survive any battle in any war, unless you show someone a picture of your sweetheart back home.
2) All G.I.s know how to make a sti...more

Maybe I'm a sucker for the Brits but Amis has this stern yet satiric and subtly poetic take on contemporary literature which is second to none. There is a sense of finality to the things he says, in the sense of tough authority and savagely on-point wit.

Just look at his face on the cover: there's this "you didn't REALLY think you could pull one over on me, did you?" quality which would either be an immediate turn-off to a prospective reader or a confirmation of his taste, wit, and learning.

I le...more
Tim Miles
Amis is a really terrific book reviewer; acid about any error, able to pinpoint a book's strengths, well versed in the historical. Highlights here include his ability to explain J.G. Ballard and Elmore Leonard's talents, the panning of Hannibal and dissection of a middling humor anthology, an enthusiastic endorsement of Underworld that's still online. The only weak essay is his attempt to explain Jane Austen's appeal-he quotes some passages, doesn't really make any claims about how we get involv...more
Reading Amis in essay-review form is a treat. The familiar wry buzz of his voice is a pleasant companion, the ironic lilt of carefree name-dropping (example: "Palimpsest... pronounced with full Sitwellian delicacy"... eh, OK, let's check google on that one) raises curiosity more often than hackles, his superior learning and culture come across as the result of a life-long passion for both reading and the writer's craft. In The War Against Clichè (a collection of book reviews and literature-based...more
As a novel junkie, it took me a while to get started on this book of book reviews recommended by my fiance. Now I can't stop reading it. Of course I feel so ignorant, since Amis is a genius who knows a lot about everything. But at least I am learning a little bit about some things from him. His reviews are more like essays on the topic about which the book is written and it is totally unnecessary to have read any of the books to follow his logic and thoughs. It's also fun to read in the same way...more
Maggie Rainey-Smith
My first reaction to this impressive work is that Martin Amis has chosen mainly male writers to review and although not all the reviews are glowing, the most glowing are reserved for his favourite male writers. The book commands respect because the reviews are themselves so well written. Amis avoids cliché and so doesn’t just preach, he practices.
In describing why Philip Larkin is a better poet than novelist, Amis reviews two of Larkin’s early novels and in particular looks at A Girl in Winter...more
Read poolside at the Arizona Inn. The first essay I turned to, about Elmore Leonard, was one of the strongest, though they are all superb. A great book to just pick up from time to time and read a random selection. This is my first exposure to M. Amis, and I am extremely envious of his writing flair and natural talent. Some of the earlier essays date from his early 20s!
Hilarious acute and acutely hilarious. Say what you want about Amis's stands, this guy is a good writer. The style here is great. It's funny -- the man definitely has a good head for writing in the idiom of the book reviewed -- and a huge sensitivity to language. Better than all of his fiction in my opinion...
I've been milking this one for a long time, and I'm sad to see it finally come to an end. Amis teaches more about writing in one throwaway critique of a writer on his use of "Elegant Variation" (needless synonyms in an attempt at stylistic originality) than most how-to hucksters do in a whole book.
there are some really good essays in here and i like the way amis organizes them. the last section deals with his personal thoughts on what he believes to be the best of the best english novels of all time. he also burns some critics for their praise of novels he believes to be rubbish.
Ben Eldridge
Jun 13, 2007 Ben Eldridge rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who like reading engaging and hilarious literary reviews.
This is one of those books that would have me chuckling away at night as I sat up in bed reading.
His review of 'Hannibal' is great. Right on the money.
He has such a skill with the written word, and this book shows that even the reviewing format can be a dazzling platform in the right hands.
Martin Amis is probably a better critic than he is a writer (as many people before me have pointed out). This collection of essays and reviews is pretty great, especially when he tears somebody a new one in his very well mannered, British gentleman way.
M. D.  Hudson
Marvelous collection of lit essays. The central pieces on poet Philip Larkin are my favorite. Amis gets trashed a lot for being mean, but I like 'em mean.
Amis is sharp and a pleasure to read. I got this book as a random gift, otherwise I wouldn't start with a collection of decade-old book reviews.
Loved it, he is anti bland, everything he writes is interesting, although the young fogey occasionally shines through.
Terry Eagelton might be disappointed with him and his father but I liked this collection of essays.
30 years of book reviews. Some of the most literary vicious and clever essays out there.
Mar 10, 2007 Nat rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Kai
Very enjoyable to dip into.
Jan 13, 2008 Angela rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those who like to read
Recommended to Angela by: matt dessem
amis is incredible.
Martin Amis has long since established himself as one of Britain's leading novelists. It does not follow that he is necessarily a great critic of literature or even a great essayist. And he is not; but he is damned good all the same.

This collection gathers a wide variety of literary reviews from 1977-2000 (though the majority of them were composed during the 70's and 80's while Amis was writing for the New Statesman) which provide curious readers with a marvelous resource in the realm of contem...more
Marie-Jo Fortis
Literary and popular cultures are examined in this book of essays -written between 1971 and 2000. Authors of acknowledged masterpieces (Cervantes, Jane Austen, Coleridge, Updike, Dickens, Saul Bellow, etc.), popular authors (Michael Crichton, Tom Wolfe...), politicians, chess and sports are forced to cohabit in this collection.

Like many young intellectuals, Amis as a young critic is more in love with his own cleverness than with the author or celebrity he examines. As he gets older, he is more t...more
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Martin Amis is an English novelist, essayist and short story writer. His works include the novels Money, London Fields and The Information.

The Guardian writes that "all his critics have noted what Kingsley Amis [his father] complained of as a 'terrible compulsive vividness in his style... that constant demonstrating of his command of English'; and it's true that the Amis-ness of Amis will be recog...more
More about Martin Amis...
Money Time's Arrow London Fields The Rachel Papers The Information

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“While clearly an impregnable masterpiece, Don Quixote suffers from one fairly serious flaw—that of outright unreadability.” 7 likes
“But now it seems clear that literary criticism was inherently doomed. Explicitly or otherwise it had based itself on a structure of echelons and hierarchies; it was about the talent elite. And the structure atomized as soon as the forces of democratization gave their next concerted push.

Those forces – incomparably the most potent in our culture – have gone on pushing. And they are now running up against a natural barrier. Some citadels, true, have proved stormable. You can become rich without having any talent (via the scratchcard and the rollover jackpot). You can become famous without having any talent (by abasing yourself on some TV nerdathon; a clear improvement on the older method of simply killing a celebrity and inheriting the aura). But you cannot become talented without having any talent. Therefore, talent must go.

Literary criticism, now almost entirely confined to the universities, thus moves against talent by moving against the canon. Academic preferment will not come from a respectful study of Wordsworth’s poetics; it will come from a challenging study of his politics – his attitude toward the poor, say, or his unconscious ‘valorization’ of Napoleon; and it will come still faster if you ignore Wordsworth and elevate some (justly) neglected contemporary, by which process the canon may be quietly and steadily sapped. A brief consultation of the Internet will show that meanwhile, everyone has become a literary critic – or at least, a book-reviewer.”
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