Lionel Asbo by Martin Amis
I was sitting waiting for someone in the library and found myself staring at the cover of this book. It looked like it should be entertaining, so I borrowed it. I had never read a book by Martin Amis before, but the book Lucky Jim, by his father Kingsley Amis is reviewed on this site at
Martin Louis Amis was born in Swansea, Wales on 25 August, 1949. He is an English novelist. His best-known novels are Money and London Fields. He has received the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his memoir Experience and has been listed for the Booker Prize twice to date.
In this book, Lionel Asbo the title character is a very violent but not very successful young criminal. He is going about his morning duties in a London prison when he learns that he has just won £139,999,999.50 on the National Lottery. This is not necessarily good news for his ward and nephew, the orphaned Des Pepperdine, who still has reason to fear Lionel’s capacity for vengeance.
The story is set in 1998, when the British Government, whose Prime Minister was Tony Blair, introduced the Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO). This act was meant to correct minor incidents which would normally not result in criminal punishment: such as loud swearing, loitering and begging. It also covered public sex and even urban exploration.
Some critics and readers felt that publishing a satirical and critical novel about the State of The Nation was inappropriate. Amis has also been criticized for exploiting the theme of the underclass from his high horse, and then running away across the pond to spend time in the USA. However, this author has reached the level where he does not pay attention to the critics who grieve that his latest novel is not the same as the novel that they most enjoyed; he just kick backs and writes what he wants to write.
The fact is visible in Lionel Asbo, where it is evident that Amis has joked with his readers. The novel has two main characters: Lionel Asbo, who is a bad character. He deals with extortion along with other shady matters, and is genuinely proud of his achievements. He has almost no education and holds the record for being the youngest person ever to be given an ASBO, at the tender age of three. His pride is such that he officially changed his name to Asbo from Pepperdine:”because it was a crap name anyhow”. Lionel speaks of the time he spent in prison with tenderness, as someone could speak about college or graduate school. He ends up in prison most of the time, but does not mind because he says a man knows where he is when he is in prison. He also has two pit bull terriers. He feeds them steaks bathed in tabasco sauce to get them into a combatative mood, as they are the tools of his trade.
Lionel’s nephew Des is the antithesis of his uncle. I enjoyed side of the story where Des, a bright young man, tries to create a life for himself while dealing with the constant threat presented by his sociopathic criminal uncle. Lionel is also Des’s guardian. I laughed out loud at the satire and aspects of Lionel becoming famous. Amis hits all the obvious points of tabloid culture or wealth enabling someone to act like an fool. As a family story, it’s tense and darkly funny. I really enjoyed the book and highly recommend it.