Bookmarks Issue: 
Martin Amis

A-The Pregnant Widow.epsMartin Amis, the son of acclaimed British novelist and poet Kingsley Amis, has written twelve novels, six works of nonfiction, two collections of short stories, and a memoir. Often compared to Saul Bellow and Vladimir Nabokov, Amis is the author of some of England's best-known postmodern novels, including Money (1984) and London Fields (1989). Also Reviewed House of Meetings ( 3.5 of 5 Stars Mar/Apr 2007)

The Story: In 1970, Keith Nearing, a working-class English university student, is spending the summer at a castle in Campania with his girlfriend Lily and a motley collection of friends. Among them is the stunningly beautiful Scheherazade, whose fabulously wealthy family owns the castle. Keith is immediately smitten with Scheherazade, and, struggling with his conscience and the new moral code of the sexual revolution, he resolves to seduce her before her patrician boyfriend arrives. As the other guests romp through the castle (and each other's bedrooms) in the pursuit of pleasure, Keith becomes increasingly obsessed with Scheherazade--a fixation that will cast a shadow over the rest of his life.
Knopf. 384 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 9781400044528

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"This is what has always made Amis a writer worth reading: his ability to dramatize the sense of sadness and regret at the heart of his limited men. ... Amis's eyes aren't always reliable, and there are times when the novel isn't nearly as wild (aesthetically or behaviorally) as it seems to think it is, especially compared to his somewhat similar 1989 novel London Fields." Brock Clarke

San Francisco Chronicle 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Unfortunately, Amis can't resist embellishing his traditional morality tale with a number of distracting pet obsessions and unconvincing metafictional smoke screens. ... At its best, it's vintage Amis, but too often the account of the summer at the castle is interrupted by orations about the nature of men, women, aging and the implications of the sexual revolution." Jacob Molyneux

Denver Post 1.5 of 5 Stars
"If by some miracle, Martin Amis the critic were able to step back and coldly evaluate Martin Amis the novelist, he might say that his latest work of fiction, The Pregnant Widow, is a Hitler's bunkerful of claustrophobic tedium, denial and failed strategizing. ... On the level of incident, The Pregnant Widow is a 300-plus page ‘What I Did on My Summer Vacation' essay, duplicating all too well the sunstruck torpor of an extended holiday." John Broening

New York Times 1 of 5 Stars
"Whereas the author's early works, like Dead Babies and The Rachel Papers, were animated by a satiric gift for social observation and a deliciously black wit, this novel tackles the same themes--sex and identity and coming of age--with weary determination, and lacquers them all with pompous, inanely rococo meditations about the nature of art and truth. ... Though the plot of Widow picks up in the second half of the novel ... this shred of a story line isn't enough to sustain interest or to support the heavy garlands of pontification that Mr. Amis insists on draping over everything." Michiko Kakutani

Washington Post 1 of 5 Stars
"The cost of filling a long novel with bizarre tics and body parts instead of, say, actual characters eventually becomes apparent. And stacked on top of each other ad infinitum, these witty lines barely accrete into the shape of a plot. The only real movement is provided by the action of Amis ramming his themes down our throat." Ron Charles

Critical Summary

Other than the Boston Globe, critics were unimpressed with Amis's coming-of-age story set during the carefree 1970s. Despite his celebrated wit and sparkling prose, Amis takes too many detours, and his persistent lectures on the frustrations of growing old and the sexual revolution's long-term effects thwart the book's narrative momentum. Critics also complained that, in lieu of character development, Amis dully differentiates his creations by their peculiar traits and (for females) chest-waist-hip ratios. But his greatest mistake, according to the New York Times, is "assuming that readers will be interested in a bunch of spoiled, self-absorbed twits, who natter on endlessly about their desires and resentments and body parts." Though Amis is a gifted and frequently hilarious writer, readers may wish to pass on The Pregnant Widow.