Martin 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.
Even 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.
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
Source: Kingston Library