Book Review: Lionel Asbo: State of England by Martin Amis

Title: Lionel Asbo: State of England
Author: Martin Amis
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
ISBN: 978-0-224-09621-8
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3/5

Martin Amis’s writing is weird and I say this with utmost respect. It is also intellectually appeasing and at the same time takes the road, not taken by many writers, that of experimentation in terms of plot and characters that are as anti as they can be.

His characters oscillate between wanting to do the right thing and tempted always to do the wrong thing and go that road. That is why I like reading what he writes. I have always admired what he has written in the past. I then started reading Lionel Asbo and it caught me off-guard a bit.

“Lionel Asbo: State of England” is his latest offering. Let me tell you something about the plot: Desmond Pepperdine is a teen resident of the hopeless borough of Diston Town and shares the home of his late mother, with his uncle Lionel Asbo, the criminal.

Lionel wants Desmond to work according to his crude principles but Desmond wants to be educated – to read and to write. He meets Dawn Sheringham, who becomes his first girlfriend and is just right for him. Desmond also sleeps with his mother’s mother at the beginning of the book. Lionel should not know of this or he will kill Desmond.

Lionel also wins a grand amount of 140 million in the National Lottery and doesn’t want to share the amount with his family. He is on this boisterous buying spree and has a new glamorous girlfriend. The twist in the tale is Lionel finding out about Desmond sleeping with his mother.

So that pretty much is the story of Lionel Asbo (Asbo taken from “Anti-Social Behaviour Order). The writing is funny and odd but I could not handle it after a point of time. It did not have the same effect as Amis’ The Rachel Papers or Money.

I loved some lines like this one that Lionel says, “When you in prison, you have you peace of mind. Because you not worried about getting arrested.” But these lines are few and far in between in the book. Otherwise the book is laced with progressive parade of crudeness throughout, which also I could handle, but then it became monotonous.

Yes the novel has to be experienced for the plot, but that is about it. Desmond’s character does not hold much water and is quite fleshy in places. Lionel on the other hand has an awesome characterization, but obviously. So if you have to read the book, then read it for Lionel. Grace (Lionel’s mother) also has her funny bits but that is about that.

The book is not a masterpiece. It is a fun read in bits and parts. There is sarcasm and there is observation of England. It is not an enjoyable read in other parts. I wanted to feel attached to the book but could not. Having said that, because I am still a Martin Amis fan, I will look forward to his latest book, whenever that is slated for release.

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One thought on “Book Review: Lionel Asbo: State of England by Martin Amis

  1. Matthew (

    You’ve picked out one of my favourite quotes from the book – one I remembered most distinctly at least. And I completely agree about that thrill in reading characters who seem compelled always to do the wrong thing, the thing that causes harm to themselves as much as anyone else.

    I had various feelings about the book, probably too many to summarise here (see my own post if you’re a gluton for punishment: but thanks for an interesting read. 🙂


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