Martin Amis: Lionel Asbo (4 stars)

Controversial page-turner from the master novelist is a satire with heart

Martin Amis: Lionel Asbo

(Jonathan Cape)

Lionel Asbo has produced considerable hot and botherment, due to Amis’ privately-educated finger-poking fun at the British working classes. In this case, it’s the kind for whom money is plentiful, but none of it obtained (to quote Amis) ‘by work of mind’.

The eponymous Asbo is a violent and troubled twentysomething, the youngest of seven children, all born before their mother was 19. We view him through the eyes of his sensitive young nephew, Desmond, a character who we actually care about – something sorely missing from Amis’ previous novel, The Pregnant Widow. A lottery win of £140m takes us into the cult of modern celebrity writ large, but with enough truisms to counterbalance the clichés, and enough tenderness to calm the hatred. Undeniably light entertainment, Lionel Asbo is still a masterclass in structure, vocabulary and style, with the added benefit of being a genuine page-turner.

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