Jason Steger - The Age - June 30, 2012
MARTIN Amis is ensconced in Hazlitt's Hotel in the heart of Soho in London. It's a comfortable place that emphasises its literary heritage and its Georgian elegance.
And it's a far cry from South Central, the celebrity hotel that provides a temporary home for Lionel Asbo, the eponymous antihero of Amis' new novel. South Central is ''the heavy-metal hotel'' that prides itself on having never ejected any guest, among whom antisocial behaviour ''was considered a civic virtue''.
Although it was the final stop for radical essayist William Hazlitt as he slipped this mortal coil, you can't imagine the hotel named after him would condone the sort of shenanigans Asbo gets up to. This despite the fact that when Hazlitt died the landlady stuffed his body under the bed because she wanted to let the room as swiftly as possible.
When Hazlitt was writing in the early 19th century, he was dismissed by some critics as being part of the ''cockney school of poetry''. It could be said Amis has long embraced the cockney school in earlier novels - think London Fields - and returns to that world with a vengeance in Lionel Asbo, his 13th.
Lionel lives with his orphaned nephew Des Pepperdine. It's as if Bill Sikes, rather than nice Mr Brownlow, has adopted Oliver Twist, and the novel is Dickensian not only in setting and its concern with the effects of wealth on its characters, but also the exaggerated style of characterisation in which Amis paints.
Money comes into the equation when Lionel wins £140 million, give or take a few quid, and the circumstances of the habitual guest at her majesty's pleasure change dramatically.
Des is a more sensitive soul and wants education, employment, love and a family. But there is the small inconvenience that we encounter in the first few pages: he is having an affair with his grandmother, Grace, who happens to be Lionel's mum. ''My mum some GILF? No. My mum some bonking biddy? No,'' Lionel tells the guilty party.
But the novel is not just a cockney caper; Amis isn't simply doing Dickens with a fair slathering of Minder on top. Its full title is Lionel Asbo: State of England, though Amis is reluctant to make grandiose claims about his intentions.
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