Sunday, August 25, 2019

Birthday Review: Yellow Dog, by Martin Amis

I wrote this review when the book came out in 2003. Today is Martin Amis' 70th birthday, so I'm posting it in his honor. It's not the best regarded of his novels (it might be close to the bottom), but I liked it OK, though it's certainly not my favorite Martin Amis work.

Yellow Dog, by Martin Amis

a review by Rich Horton

Martin Amis is the writing son of the late Sir Kingsley Amis, author of Lucky Jim and The Old Devils and New Maps of Hell and many other books, and one of my favorite writers. I've read quite a lot of Martin's work as well, generally though not always with enjoyment. His best known mode is quite savagely satirical, usually taking on the vulgar excesses of contemporary life, with especial interest in violence and in pornography. This is the mode of his most famous novels, such as Money, The Information, and London Fields, at any rate. Yellow Dog is his new novel, and it is very much in that same mode. Also, as with much of Martin Amis' work, it can be placed, somewhat uncertainly, in the SF genre: at any rate, it is set in an alternate present-day England, with an importantly different royal house, the last three generations of which feature such controversially named kings as John II, Richard IV, and now Henry IX. Also, a minor plot point is that a comet is heading towards Earth, predicted to miss by only a few thousand miles.

Yellow Dog interleaves several stories, all in the end revolving around pornography. The main character is Xan Meo, a "renaissance man": actor/writer/guitarist, but also the son of a gangster. Xan is nearing 50, and living a reformed life himself: he no longer drinks or smokes, he is a loving and faithful husband, and the loving father of two young daughters. He had previously been in a destructive marriage and had two sons, but after a far from amicable divorce he has changed his ways. But once a year, on the anniversary of his decision to quit, he heads to a pub and has a few drinks and a few cigarettes. This time, at the pub, he is waylaid by representatives of a crimelord and beaten severely, apparently for "naming" their boss compromisingly, though Meo has no idea how or even who. Meo's beating, and the subsequent brain damage, drastically affects his relationships with his wife and daughters, and also his careers, and he ends up thrown out of his house, with a former porn star turned producer trying to seduce him, and with a job acting (not as a "participant", though) in a porn movie.

Another key thread follows a vile journalist named Clint Smoker, who works for perhaps the worst of the London tabloids, and who despite his monetary success is an abject and humiliating failure with women. He too ends up on the set of the porn film, though as a journalist researching a story. There is also a thread about the King of England, Henry IX, and a crisis involving a secret pornographic videotape of his popular 15 year old daughter, Victoria. Finally, we end up meeting the gangster who has ordered Xan Meo to be beat up, and we learn much of his personal history, and of his financial and personal involvement with the porn industry.

(There is also a strange thread involving an airplane flying from England to the US carrying the coffin of a recently deceased, very rich, man, and also involving the threat of a crash -- I concede I never really figured out what Amis was after with this thread.)

The novel is very entertaining, full of rather savage and often vulgar wordplay, some gaspingly horrid behaviour (especially on the part of the tabloid folks), and some pretty scary things too, especially the degradation of Xan's character. The plot is somewhat intricate, and resolved cleverly and funnily. There are some details about the porn industry that I'm not sure are actually true, but have a horrible ring of possible truth to them. Except for the airplane thread, which as I said I simply didn't get, I thought it worked very well -- a strong, savage novel, not a great work, nor Amis's best, but, I though, pretty darn good.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't read this one, and won't, based on your review. I've had mixed & mostly negative reactions to the few books of his that I've read. The one that really impressed me was "Koba the Dread", his Stalin book:
    Amis: "a true description of the Soviet Union *exactly* resembled a demented slander of the Soviet Union." Negative perfection!