Sam Quixote's Reviews > Lionel Asbo: State of England

Lionel Asbo by Martin Amis
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Jun 11, 2012

really liked it
Read in June, 2012

Martin Amis' latest novel "Lionel Asbo" is a satirical character portrait of a kind of personality emergent in 21st century Britain: loud, brash, thuggish, stupid, fame-driven and greedy. Lionel is a man who's so proud of his thug background that he's changed his surname from Pepperdine to Asbo (Anti-Social Behaviour Order), of which he's collected many starting at the record-breaking age of 2.

The squalid township he inhabits is the imaginary Diston where nobody lives to their 60s and many women are grandmothers by their 40s. Lionel's own gran, 42, begins an incestuous relationship with her nephew, Des, who is a teenager. Then during one of his frequent stretches in prison, Lionel discovers that he has won the lottery, a staggering 140 million!

Amis' novel is his most enjoyable in years and he's clearly having a good time writing it. Lionel is a fully realised character, his voice is perfect, his character painfully realistic. He's at times charming in a strange way and then changing on a whim to being a cold hearted brute. His calculating mind and overly violent, sometimes sadistic, oftentimes simplistic nature is portrayed brilliantly by Amis as we see Lionel deal with his influx of sudden good fortune and how it warps him, accentuating the violence, ego, and pettiness to a heightened state.

As a contrast, Amis includes Des Pepperdine, Lionel's nephew, who is the sympathetic hero to this story (once the granny affair is put to rest). He claws himself up from his difficult surroundings to educate himself, find a job, and start a family of his own. While his story is the calm in between Lionel's raging storms, I found him to be a less interesting character, mawkish and dull in his own ways.

The book showcases Amis' rich sense of humour, particularly in Lionel's discussions with Des about GILFS (which changes to DILFS when he becomes rich), as well as a Katie Price/Jordan-type character in wannabe-poet/plastic surgery casualty Threnody, a modern day Lady MacBeth with barely any brains. I also liked the faux-newspaper reports on Lionel's antics once he leaves prison and begins spending his money.

The novel works best as a study of a character than a plot-driven novel and while I thought that the last third of the book was boring (as well as the ending which remains Amis' biggest weakness as a novelist), the book is definitely worth reading for its unique voice in Lionel Asbo. Moreover it's an enjoyable and funny book to read from one of the most consistently interesting voices in literature today. "Lionel Asbo" is Amis' best novel in years and well worth a look.
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