In the original dustsheet. Black cloth binding with gilt title on the spine.
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‘A phenomenal writer’ Sunday Times. An intoxicating comedy about youth, the 1970s, the sexual revolution and its aftermath.
Summer, 1970. Sex is very much on everyone’s mind.
Keith Nearing – a bookish twenty-year-old, in that much disputed territory between five foot six and five foot seven – is on holiday and struggling to twist the seventies’s emerging feminism towards his own ends. Torn between three women, his scheming doesn’t come off quite as he expects.
‘Read it: it is hilarious, often wonderfully perceptive, uncompromisingly ambitious and written by a great master of the English language’ Financial Times
Review: This is Martin’s best novel since The Information. But it’s not his best novel. That was Money. The Pregnant Widow is written with a long view, with a view to the reputation in decades and centuries to come. Perhaps it’s a begging letter to the Nobel Prize committee. Or a required text for his university course, with the requisite plethora of vaguely scholarly references to more or less classic writings. But in an airport novel it’s not. That was Yellow Dog, which I bought in its first days as a hardback to read over the Atlantic and felt compelled to hide from the traveler beside me to prevent his seeing the shameful words on the page before me (once I’d read it to the bitter end, I tore up the book and trashed the shreds). By contrast, this new novel is worth sporting on the shelf for a lifetime. It’s Martin’s best shot yet at classic status. In times to come, when the London trilogy has lost much of its contemporary sizzle, The Pregnant Widow will live on as a challenge for English undergraduates eager to test their exegetical powers on a worthy target. This new novel also deftly overshadows Martin’s first three novels, The Rachel Papers (where in effect he channeled the skills of his father Kingsley), Dead Babies (a pulp work that I panned with more zeal than craft in my 1975 Oxford university magazine Isis review of it), and Success (the less said the better), and leaves Martin with an airbrushed but serviceable legacy for posterity. In fact, the 2010 contribution to the collected works is better than all its predecessors in several ways. It’s more sober, more craftsmanlike (except for the sometimes oppressively esoteric vocabulary and references), more reflective (despite the profusion of stylistic tics, such as in-sentence repetition, and pet topics, like breast and stature statistics), and more philosophical. Yes, Martin is aging, and it shows. But so are we all, and there are still plenty of readers ready to read a doorstop like this one to recall the embarrassments of their younger years. One detail for gourmet readers – the Ted Hughes story of Narcissus that reappears regularly in the novel as a leitmotif is brilliant, almost so much so that it overshadows the murky sex games in the castle. That, more than any other visible thread in the tapestry, is what will give the book classic status, if indeed it gets it. For Martin’s place in history, it also makes the book a suitably impressive tombstone.
Sir Martin Louis Amis FRSL (25 August 1949 – 19 May 2023) was an English novelist, essayist, memoirist, and screenwriter. He is best known for his novels Money (1984) and London Fields (1989). He received the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his memoir Experience and was twice listed for the Booker Prize (shortlisted in 1991 for Time’s Arrow and longlisted in 2003 for Yellow Dog). Amis served as Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Manchester’s Centre for New Writing from 2007 until 2011. In 2008, The Times named him one of the fifty greatest British writers since 1945.
Amis’s work centres on the excesses of “late-capitalist” Western society, whose perceived absurdity he often satirised through grotesque caricature. He was portrayed by some literary critics as a master of what The New York Times called “the new unpleasantness”. Inspired by Saul Bellow and Vladimir Nabokov, as well as by his father Kingsley Amis, Amis himself influenced many British novelists of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, including Will Self and Zadie Smith.
A lifelong smoker, Amis died from oesophageal cancer at his house in the US state of Florida in May 2023. The New York Times wrote after his death: “To come of reading age in the last three decades of the 20th century – from the oil embargo through the fall of the Berlin Wall, all the way to 9/11 – was to live, it now seems clear, in the Amis Era.”
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