Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 23, 2012

The Pregnant Widow, by Martin Amis, read by Steven Pacey

The Pregnant WidowMartin Amis is one of those authors that I’ve always meant to read.  Nothing much has ever appealed, however, and The Pregnant Widow might not have been the first except that there it was as an audio book at the library and there wasn’t much else to choose from that day.

Faulks on FictionEven so, I might not have bothered except that Sebastian Faulks in Faulks on Fiction had been so enthusiastic about Amis both father and son.  In his survey of British storytelling since the 18th century, Faulks traced how memorable fictional characters were emblematic of ordinary people, mapping the British psyche over time.  The characters in novels by Martin Amis are emblematic of modern man in postwar Britain, slogging it out during the austerity of the 1950s and wondering why having won the war didn’t seem to have made life better.

The Pregnant Widow is too recently published to have been included in Faulks’ survey.  I wonder what he would have made of it.  Not having read anything else by Amis I can’t tell if it’s typical, but I can’t say that the prose was anything to get excited about.  There’s an awful lot of filthy language, which is still usually a sign of an author’s paucity of vocabulary.  However in this case since the novel is all about sexual desire, Amis couldn’t very well have written it with his chosen characters without using crude language.

The novel is set in an Italian castello as the 1960s sexual revolution gets under way, and a rather earnest and dull young man called Keith Nearing is keen to enjoy himself.  Sexual liberation for women is just wonderful for young men, except that they’re not so keen on their sisters joining in.  Keith has a girlfriend called Lily but he lusts after another because of her a-hem, impressive physique.  He spends a great deal of time plotting her seduction while pretending to Lily that he doesn’t fancy Scherazade at all.  They all talk about sex, all the time.  Both men and women discuss their prospects and the performance of their conquests.  Keith talks a little bit about the novels he reads, but not much because his mind is always on other things.

It’s a very difficult book to write about.  It’s all dialogue between these inane, sex-obsessed young people, peppered with a rather arch narrator commenting on their goings-on.  Much of it just washed over me on the daily commute.  I found it mildly engaging but as I changed the CDs each day I had trouble remembering what, if anything, had happened.   Some of it is rather funny, and quite a bit of it is rather rude, and all of it is about supremely irritating people…

I suspect that (because I’ve read somewhere that Martin Amis is the enfant terrible of contemporary British fiction) that the objectification of women was intended to be provocative.  Nothing in the characterisation of Gloria Beautyman rectifies this in my opinion even though she objectifies men as every bit as crudely as they objectify women.

The narrator, Steven Pacey, renders the different voices superbly.

More reviews, some of which IMO invest this book with more gravitas than it deserves: NY Books, the Guardian, and an interview with the author at GQ Magazine.

Oh well, at least now I can say I’ve read something by Martin Amis …

Author: Martin Amis
Title: The Pregnant Widow
Narrated by Steven Pacey
Publisher: Chivers Audiobooks, 2012
ISBN: 9781408490181
Source: Kingston Library

Availability

Fishpond: The Pregnant Widow (book) or The Pregnant Widow (audio book)


Responses

  1. I have read the father and delved into the son. ‘Lucky Jim’ by Kingsley was supposed be an exceptional novel. I found it to be terrifyingly dull. Martin’s use of foul language put me off completely, and he seemed to be writing for effect, to deliberately shock, and that doesn’t appeal to me either.
    Thanks again for such an excellent review Lisa. Some critics seem to be awed by reputations, but you review intelligently, with integrity and without fear or favour.

    • Hi Ken, thanks for your kind words:)
      I have a vague memory of reading Lucky Jim a long time ago, but unless I resurrected a copy and read it again, I can’t be sure. As to Martin Amis, I read on GoodReads that the NY Times called him the undisputed master of “the new unpleasantness” and that seems like an apt description!
      A scorcher here in Melbourne today so I’m holed up indoors and about to make a start on belated preparations for Christmas. I haven’t even done the decorations yet so I’d best get cracking.
      I think all here in Victoria are keeping our fingers crossed that the inevitable bushfires will be quickly brought under control…

      • Yes indeed. The ever present summer menace of bushfires! I remember the worst day prior to Black Saturday – Black Friday,1939. My father was hosing the roof during a scorcher, when the fence spontaneously caught alight. Fortunately he had the hose and immediately extinguished the flames.
        It was a great tragedy then and more recently.
        It is particularly worrying because bushfires are not always predictable, and the quandary about staying or leaving still exists.
        I went outside early to plant some corn and carrots, then watered the rest of my vegies. They get very thirsty on days like this.
        Like you I will also be holed up inside for the rest of the day, reading and writing poetry.

        • Gracious, I never heard of a fence spontaneously combusting, how scary!

  2. Hi Lisa love your reviews. Re Martin Amis, try Lionel Asbo – it’s very entertaining, great characters, funny, terrifying (not often do I have to skip to the approaching end to see if the worst had happened). I read it, plus Skios and also The woman who went to bed for a year, and felt totally immersed in the extraordinary world of modern day UK.

    • Hello Anne, welcome to chatting about books here at ANZ LitLovers, and thank you for your kind remarks:)
      I have Skios waiting patiently on the TBR, I loved Headlong and especially Spies, but I read them before I started this blog. And I read Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole and liked that too, so thank you for the recommendations, will look out for Lionel Asbo at the library too!
      All the best for the festive season!
      Lisa

  3. And I’d say read Time’s arrow … a Holocaust novel that, well, I don’t want to give anything away except to day that I may or may not read any more Amis but I’m very glad I read this. I’d read it again.

    • Goodness – all these recommendations are a surprise! Clearly I have some extra reading to do. All the best for Christmas, Sue:)

      • Same to you Lisa … a bit hectic here … reading slowed to a halt.

  4. I like Amis but was very disappointed with this novel. For what it is worth, after his first few novels I think “reputation” overtook hard work and his books definitely suffered. He moved to New York with his new family a few years back and that seems to have provoked a return to earlier form — I thought Lionel Asbo was excellent.

    • Ok, two recommendations from bloggers I trust: it sounds like Lionel Asbo ought to be my next.
      Best wishes for the festive season to you and Mrs KfC, I bet you are ankle deep in snow but we have just had our hottest day this summer and are grateful that the temperature has dropped to 25 degrees with the ‘cool’ change. I don’t think our aircon could have coped with having the oven on for 5 hours to cook the turkey!

  5. I’ll just add my voice to the chorus of people who think his early work is quite good, but the later stuff, not so much. Like Sue said, Time’s Arrow is probably my favourite, though Money and London Fields are also pretty great.

  6. I read most amis early books but last I read was yellow dog which I found very poor have this on shelf but not read it yet ,all the best stu

  7. This sounds intriguing in a way. I must say too that I don’t see anything in your excellent reivew that suggests a link between the contents and the Title.


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