Jessica's Reviews > The Pregnant Widow

The Pregnant Widow by Martin Amis
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May 24, 2010

it was ok
bookshelves: bad-reads, crazy-ladies, groups-of-people, leetle-boys, love-and-other-indoor-sports, dicklits
Recommended to Jessica by: no one, and in fact i read it AGAINST the infallible advice of mike reynolds
Recommended for: maybe baby boomers? men? so they can tell me if i'm missing something?
I own a copy

You know how women are always saying that what they want is a guy with a great sense of humor, while men are always saying that women love assholes? I've long thought, based on this, that a lot more women than'd admit it want to bang Martin Amis. Despite his innumerable turnoffs and appalling flaws, there is something bangable -- er, compelling about the guy and his writing. I gave The Pregnant Widow an extra star because (for reasons I can't fully explain) I did enjoy the first three quarters of this novel. This enjoyment was especially significant and gratifying because I've been in a reading rut for months, and nothing I pick up can really engage me. So when I saw that Martin Amis had just come out with a new novel purported to be all about SEX, I thought, "well if that can't save me...." and I picked it up, despite the advice of trusted friends and brilliant critics (i.e., Mike Reynolds). I will say that until the last quarter I was thinking it was a three-starrer. But the end of this had me sputtering furiously, my American English failing me and phrases like "shite" and "vile rubbish" being spat out by the little Disney-brit chimney-sweeps who live in my mind. So that's the two stars: inexplicably enjoyable 3/4 and an inexpressibly bad ending.

I don't know how much the backstory of how this was written has come out yet in the press. Usually Amis comes up with ideas for novels on his own, and since he's pretty famous, he generally just types them up and sends them off to his publisher. But I think what happened here involved the British literary equivalent of our Hollywood Producers. See, a couple of them were sitting out by the Thames wearing tweed and drinking port, discussing the huge success a few years ago of Ian McEwan's sleeper hit, On Chesil Beach. See, that novel really seemed to resonate with people, especially with the Boomers, a key book-buying demographic. As the producers were talking, one of them recalled the start of Chesil Beach, which opened with that Philip Larkin poem that everyone likes so much, you know, "Sexual intercourse began/ In 1963...." And then the other producer, he set down his crumpet and his sleazy tabloid paper, and then he had his idea.

"Listen baby, old chap," he said to the other. "On Chesil Beach took place in 1962, before the invention of sexual intercourse. I'm thinking a bloody sequel.... Same Baby Boomer draw, but this time with skinny-dipping. We'll cast a tall blonde chippie with terrific tits.... some brunette slag with an enormous arse.... You know, old boy, we could pull in some lads! Those younger fellows, they've got loads of money to toss away on books."

"Jolly good! The epic story of the Sexual Revolution, with full nudity all round! You fancy we might persuade Philip Roth to direct?"

"I'm pretty sure he's written this book already, several times. Changing sexual mores, sexual revolution, that sixties generation.... But, he's a Yank. And likely all booked. Can't we get one of our own?"

"Martin Amis busy with anything?"

"No.... In fact, I don't think he is."

And I don't think he is either, because let's be honest: Amis is no longer screamingly funny, nor is he much of an asshole. I wish those things weren't connected, but I'm afraid they kind of are. The feeling I associate with good Amis is that of laughing my ass off, while hating myself for it. But he's not mean anymore, and worse, he seems confused. His claws do look dull, filed down to a civilized manicure. He may more likely to trip than to trip someone else.

So but like, as previously noted, I really did enjoy this for about the first three quarters, though I wasn't sure why that was.... I guess because it was well-written and about sex, and I'm picky about words and have a filthy mind. But see, most of it really wasn't about sex, it was more about desire, and in my experience writing that's about desire's often great, while writing about actual sex is almost always deadly boring. I mean, most sex-writing that doesn't elide the actual sex is just porn, and porn is dull. The Pregnant Widow tended to elide the actual sex and be boring, showing, perhaps, that Amis is aware of this problem and is not equal to the challenge he set up for himself.

I am not real big on plot summary, which is fine here actually because as far as I could see there isn't much of one to summarize. Middle-aged Keith (another Keith!) is looking back on the summer of 1970, which he spent in an Italian castle being hopelessly confused by a bunch of girls in various states of undress. There is a lot of buildup to how CONFUSED and TRAUMATIZED young Keith is about to become by some combination of these prurient, cocky young ladies who've the new Spirit of the Times about them (or who haven't), and by the turning of the hands of time, and also, somewhat inexplicably to this reader but also apparently semi-autobiographically so I should be polite about it, his younger sister essentially slutting herself to death? I dunno, I guess I just didn't really get the whole thing at all. During the last quarter of this book, I was actually gasping and shouting out loud as I rode the subway, because I just couldn't believe how bizarre and senseless things were getting. Not that anything was happening, it's more just that -- well, nothing was happening! That I could see. Maybe that was the point. Maybe this was all Amis being like, "Friends, fellow oldsters: the world has changed. It changed when I was twenty-one, and it looked like I understood it, especially in the eighties when I got all that attention, but really I was just playing along, and now time has gone on, and I'm getting impotent and senile, so I'll just babble off limply into obscurity now, and let you young pretty sharp things carry on from here...."

Only I don't really think so. I mean, he does still have his moments, and the few sharp and shining edges in here argue against its being purposely irrelevant and slack. Maybe I just don't get the joke because I wasn't there in 1970. Maybe I just don't understand the way Amis thinks about sex. Honestly, I do still kind of wanna bang Martin Amis, even if he's not that funny and not an asshole anymore, if just to see whether what he thinks he's doing and what I think I'm doing is a remotely related activity, because having read a few of his books about sex, I can't imagine that it is.

Ah, Martin. You do inevitably disappoint me, but I still find you compelling. Somehow being let down by this book made me feel I should read more Martin Amis, an irrational feeling I associate with my younger self's approach to relations with men. Hm, book premise in there? I think there might be. I've seen lamer ideas....
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09/08 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-18 of 18) (18 new)

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message 1: by David (new)

David Whoa. I can't believe you're here again.

You're like the Cher of Goodreads.

message 2: by Eric (last edited May 24, 2010 05:59PM) (new)

Eric slutting herself to death?


this book made me feel I should read more Martin Amis

Success! The Information! The latter is especially rife with unwilling, self-scandalizing laughter.

Jessica Whoa, beige boxes? This is like when I went back to my hometown, and they'd torn everything I cared about down and put up 7-11s.

I can't believe there's a drinking event here on Thursday that's hosted by Bookface! I'd try to show up, but I don't think I'd know anyone.

message 4: by David (new)

David I can't believe there's a drinking event here on Thursday that's hosted by Bookface! I'd try to show up, but I don't think I'd know anyone.

You MUST go. And then give a full report.

Tosh is in NYC right now, and I betcha he's going. And I think karen and Greg are going... I met them that time I was in NYC and you fled to Turkey, so passionate was your desire to avoid me, and they're not nearly as sociopathic as you might imagine.

Jessica Looks like karen RSVPed yes, and it also looks like OTIS CHANDLER's gonna be there!!! That's, like, some CELEBRITY shit! So maybe I'll put on my assless Cher pants and sailor outfit and make my faded star appearance.... I've got a Spanish class uptown until nine, but if I can strongarm anyone into cruising the second half with me, I might do. Funnily enough, brian and I wound up at KGB bar the first night we hung out, so it's got some Bookface lore clinging to it already....

Jason Nailed the review, as is typical (but of late much missed) of your writing.

Who's picked up the Amis mantle? As you put it--who's both an asshole and funny? I think A.M. Homes can be as ruthless and on occasion as funny, but she seems to have gotten nicer... alas. Lepucki needs to get someone to recognize the brilliance of her novel, 'cause it's brilliant and brutal and often scabrously funny and genuinely moving about sex and pain and power.

message 7: by karen (new)

karen i most certainly will be there.
since you have not been very good about stalking me on the subway train, ms. sunnyside...

Jessica Will you be there at the end part? I'd get down there around ten probably, depending on my energy levels at that point in the day. I would of course wear bloody bunny ears for recognition purposes. Also, I'd be carrying a copy of The Information.

message 9: by karen (new)

karen i will still be there, unless i have been kicked off the crawl for drunk and disorderly - i usually overstay my welcome.

message 10: by David (new)

David Everyone wants to bang Martin Amis. Even Christopher Holier-than-Thou Hitchens .

GOD, I hate this new reformatting rubbish.

Jessica For the record, I wouldn't bang Christopher Hitchens.

Jessica (Because for one thing, I don't find him particularly funny.)

Jason Jessica wrote: "(Because for one thing, I don't find him particularly funny.)"

Everybody knows naturalized American citizens just aren't funny.

Jessica Oh, I wouldn't go THAT far, Mike. I mean, most of them are pathetic and humorless, but there are a FEW funny naturalized American citizens out there. Of course, the funny ones tend to be thin and attractive homosexuals, in my experience. And usually Muslim, have you noticed that?

message 15: by Manny (new)

Manny Jessica, it's so nice to see you back that I'll overlook the port and crumpets.

By the way, do you know who Jordan/Katie Price is? A startling number of Americans have never heard of her, and I'm told that she's the inspiration for one of the characters in this book... that does in fact seem to be the main attraction for British readers.

message 16: by Miriam (new)

Miriam Jessica, I love this review. Martin Amis makes me so mad! So does Kingsley, but Lucky Jim: now there's a book.

message 17: by Claudia (last edited Jul 08, 2010 07:58PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Claudia Loved and agree with your commentary. I don't think I've ever felt more seduced and abandoned by a book in my life and I was an Amis virgin. Can't believe how pissed off I got! Guess that must be worth something though...

And yes, I was there (in California, not some freaking Italian castle with a bunch of prep school types). And no, not at all like that for everyone and a lot more to it as well. And yes, I am a boomer. Bitterly dissapointed nonetheless. Especially because all that literary titilation doesn't pay off either. The moral of the story seems to be "Get a little brown wife whom you both love and want to bonk (amazing revelation!), do some dishes, and life is good." With all that buidup I was hoping for more.

message 18: by Pat (new) - rated it 3 stars

Pat Your review was better than the book...

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