Martin Amis - The Pregnant Widow (3 stars)

Martin Amis - The Pregnant Widow

(Jonathan Cape)

On page 395 of this 465-page endurance test, Martin Amis promises the following from one of his characters: ‘Gloria Beautyman, at least, will be giving us something that Life badly needs. Plot’. Life, Martin – and indeed your latest novel. As his many previous works ably proved, Amis does a good line in young folk having fun with sex, drugs and high-brow hedonism his particular speciality. Yet having just turned 60, he now has a different area of expertise – growing old.

When our ‘hero’ Keith Nearing (neither likeable nor despicable enough to ever really get us on side) looks back on his life from the vantage point of his mid-50s, Amis is on fire. Simultaneously reflecting on and contemplating times past and yet to come, he perfectly captures the bullet train that propels us to our sell-by date. Yet that is far from the novel’s main concern, more’s the pity. Instead, The Pregnant Widow is swollen with a near day by day account of Nearing’s long hot summer languishing in Italy. The year is 1970, and the sexual revolution of the 60s has paved the way for this 20-year-old mammary-obsessed literature student to enjoy the spoils.

A thinly veiled blend of autobiography and fiction, the book is populated with few, if any, people you’d actually want to meet and suffers from a distinct lack of action, or the kind of twists that might keep you hooked. Amis’ stunning grasp of the English language, and gargantuan vocabulary, is all that sees us through. Sometimes, that’s just not enough.

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