Lionel Asbo : State of England
by Martin Amis

Overview -

A savage, funny, and mysteriously poignant saga by a renowned author at the height of his powers.
Lionel Asbo, a terrifying yet weirdly loyal thug (self-named after England's notorious Anti-Social Behaviour Order), has always looked out for his ward and nephew, the orphaned Desmond Pepperdine.  Read more...

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More About Lionel Asbo by Martin Amis

A savage, funny, and mysteriously poignant saga by a renowned author at the height of his powers.
Lionel Asbo, a terrifying yet weirdly loyal thug (self-named after England's notorious Anti-Social Behaviour Order), has always looked out for his ward and nephew, the orphaned Desmond Pepperdine. He provides him with fatherly career advice (always carry a knife, for example) and is determined they should share the joys of pit bulls (fed with lots of Tabasco sauce), Internet porn, and all manner of more serious criminality. Des, on the other hand, desires nothing more than books to read and a girl to love (and to protect a family secret that could be the death of him). But just as he begins to lead a gentler, healthier life, his uncle--once again in a London prison--wins 140 million in the lottery and upon his release hires a public relations firm and begins dating a cannily ambitious topless model and "poet." Strangely, however, Lionel's true nature remains uncompromised while his problems, and therefore also Desmond's, seem only to multiply.

  • ISBN-13: 9780307958082
  • ISBN-10: 0307958086
  • Publisher: Alfred a Knopf Inc
  • Publish Date: August 2012
  • Page Count: 255
  • Dimensions: 1 x 6.75 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds

Related Categories

Books > Fiction > Political

Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2012-06-11
  • Reviewer: Staff

If there’s a more depraved human being than the title character of Martin Amis’s savagely funny new novel, Lionel Asbo: State of England, you do not want to meet him. Like earlier Amis creations Keith Talent (London Fields) and John Self (Money), Asbo’s very name (ASBO is the U.K. acronym for Anti-Social Behavior Order) is a tipoff of the author’s intent. And like those earlier Amis novels, Lionel Asbo: State of England crackles with brilliant prose and scathing satire. Lionel first runs afoul of the law at the age of three years, two days (“a national record”) for throwing bricks through car windows. By 21, he’s a vicious criminal who raises pitbulls on a diet of Tabasco Sauce and malt liquor and terrorizes his seedy London neighborhood. So far so Amis. So who could predict that, from this delightfully nasty setup, an author the New York Times once called “fiction’s angriest writer” would craft a novel so... Dickensian, a novel with such... I hate to even say it... heart. That’s because Lionel Asbo: State of England also features a hopeful, lovable orphan in need of a benefactor, Lionel’s nephew Desmond Pepperdine. And when Lionel wins £140 million in the national lottery, what follows is hilarious and strangely compelling—a gleefully twisted Great Expectations. Lionel’s family tree is a tangle of early breeding: his mum, Grace, had seven children by the age of 19: a girl, Cilla, then five boys named after Beatles (the last is named Stuart Sutcliffe) and, finally, Lionel. Only Cilla and Lionel have the same father, so, despite the age difference, the bookended siblings are known as “the twins.” Des is Cilla’s boy and when she dies young, Lionel is left to raise his smart, sensitive nephew, who is only six years younger than him. Lionel takes to his new role, encouraging Des to put down his schoolbooks and go break windows with his mates. Then Lionel gets rich and becomes a tabloid sensation, the Lottery Lout. He lives large, hires a publicist, and starts a phony relationship with one of those beautiful, boring women famous for being famous (think: a British Kardashian.) Wealthy Lionel is even worse than poor Lionel; boorish, brutal, wistful for his old life. “Not happy. Not sad. Just numb,” as he describes himself. “The only time I know I’m breathing is when I’m doing some skirt.” Amis adopts a big, playful storytelling voice in this book. He riffs like a jazz master, in and out of vernacular, with brief gusts of description, all driven by a tight bass line of suspense. You see, Des is hiding a secret and if Lionel finds out... well, let’s just say it would be better if Lionel does not find out. A double-edged question holds this terrific, lithe novel: will it be the fabulously wealthy Lionel who takes care of Des, or the sociopath? Reviewed by Jess Walter, who is the author of six novels, most recently Beautiful Ruins (Harper 2012). He won the 2005 Edgar Award for his novel Citizen Vince.

BookPage Reviews

It's a rich man's world

Few modern writers have shown such savage skill for crafting grotesque tales of excess as Martin Amis. Even fewer writers have managed to take such tales and turn them into something truly insightful. Amis has proven time and time again that he stands alone at the pinnacle of this kind of writing, and Lionel Asbo: State of England is further confirmation of his gifts.

Desmond Pepperdine is a teenager with dreams of being a writer whose life is dominated by his uncle and guardian, Lionel Asbo, an amoral powerhouse who feeds Tabasco to his dogs and gives Des helpful advice like “always carry a knife.” Desmond’s family has never really been cohesive, but things get even stranger when he begins a sexual relationship with his very young grandmother. As Des juggles his guilt and confusion with the secret he must keep from his violent uncle, everything changes when Lionel wins the lottery.

Suddenly ex-con Lionel is the juiciest thing the British press has encountered in ages. As he finds new ways to spend his cash, hires a publicist and takes up with a nude model, Lionel grows in the public eye, and Desmond is caught in the middle.

What’s most remarkable about Lionel Asbo is how real it feels despite the absurdities of the plot. Amis roots his tale in flawed, simple people and their flawed, simple desires, driving the story with his characteristically vivid prose. The result is something that works both as a comic tale of human indulgence and a frightening, precise bolt aimed at celebrity culture and class distinction.

Lionel Asbo is Amis at his best: a short, sweet, biting work of raw energy and surprising power. Amis fans will love it, and first-timers will find a compelling new voice to follow.

BAM Customer Reviews