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The War Against Cliche: Essays and Reviews, 1971-2000 [Paperback]

Martin Amis
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

July 16 2002
Like John Updike, Martin Amis is the preeminent novelist-critic of his generation. Always entertaining, with a razor-sharp wit and inimitable judgment, he expounds on a dazzling range of topics from chess, nuclear weapons, masculinity, screen censorship, to Andy Warhol, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Margaret Thatcher. The very best of his essays and reviews from the past twenty-five years are brought together in this substantial and wide-ranging collection, including pieces on Cervantes, Milton, Donne, Coleridge, Jane Austen, Dickens, Kafka, Philip Larkin, Joyce, Evelyn Waugh, Malcolm Lowry, Nabokov, William Burroughs, Anthony Burgess, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Shiva and V.S. Naipaul, Kurt Vonnegut, Iris Murdoch, Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal, Don DeLillo, Elmore Leonard, Michael Crichton,V.S. Pritchett and John Updike.


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From Amazon

In Martin Amis's War Against Cliché, a selection of critical essays and reviews published between 1971 and 2000, he establishes himself as one of the fiercest critics and commentators on the literature and culture of the late 20th century. (He has already established himself as one of the most controversial and original novelists writing in English with novels such as Money and Time's Arrow.) In his foreword to the book Amis ruefully admits that his earlier reviews reveal a rather humorless attitude towards the "Literature and Society" debate of the time. Yet this only adds to the fascination of the collection, as Amis gradually finds his critical voice in the 1980s, confirming his passionate belief that "all writing is a campaign against cliché."

In the subsequent sections of the book, this war leads to some wonderfully cutting and amusing responses to whatever crosses his path, from books on chess and nuclear proliferation to Cervantes' Don Quixote and the novels of his hero Vladimir Nabokov. Praise for his literary heroes is often fulsome: J.G. Ballard's High-Rise "is an intense and vivid bestiary, which lingers in the mind and chronically disquiets it." But his literary wrath is also devastating in its incisiveness: Thomas Harris's Hannibal is dismissed as "a novel of such profound and virtuoso vulgarity," while John Fowles is attacked because "he sweetens the pill: but the pill was saccharine all along." Often frank in its reappraisals (Amis concedes to being too hard on Ballard's Crash when reviewing the film many years later), some of the best writing is reserved for his journalism on sex manuals, chess, and his beloved football. The War Against Cliché will provoke strong reactions, but that only seems to confirm, rather than deny, the value of Amis's writing. --Jerry Brotton, Amazon.co.uk --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Amis's critiques cover wide-ranging topics and are well worth reading, particularly when the erudition on display is liberated by humor, regarding not only the subject under examination but often the examiner himself. Amis, best known for his novels (e.g., London Fields, The Information), recognizes an authorial foible, then pounces on it not without grace, not without vigor. His evaluations are lively, scholarly, and, on rare occasion, numbing though probably less so for those few who know as much about literature as Amis. Requiring less literary background are his essays on poker or chess, Elvis Presley, or the sexual allure of Margaret Thatcher. The Amis view is at its best or at least at its most readable when he is chatting up such standards as Don Quixote, Pride and Prejudice, Ulysses, and Lolita. His lengthy commentary on Nabokov, Larkin, and Updike certainly informs, as do shorter pieces on Roth, Burroughs, Capote, Burgess, and Vidal. To paraphrase Vidal, the best writing allows the reader to participate. Without question, Amis appreciates this concept and puts it into practice in his most accomplished criticisms. Recommended for academic libraries. Robert L. Kelly, Fort Wayne Community Schs., IN
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amis, light of my life, fire of my mind Feb. 7 2002
Format:Hardcover
Martin Amis doesn't write for you. He doesn't write for himself. He doesn't write for his wife, or his kids. He doesn't even write for his publisher, or the various periodicals to which he contributes. Martin Amis writes for Vladimir Nabokov. Well, maybe for Kingsley, too, but mostly for Nabokov. You can see it in every labyrinthine sentence, in the complex prose, in the wit, the intellect, and the iconoclastic tendencies that reign over this stunning collection of literary reviews, taken from the last 30 years of Amis' writing career.
Okay, he's not only writing for Nabokov. So who is Amis' ideal reader? One who has an "imagination, memory, a dictionary, and some artistic sense." Amis searches to challenge you, but also to entertain. And that passing remark about the dictionary was not made in jest. Amis is the one author whose logocentrism forces me to the dictionary with pleasure. Nearly every paragraph.
The collection's title comes from Amis' belief that "all writing is a campaign against cliche", not just in a literary sense, but also in a human sense. He takes his role in this campaign very seriously, as an author, stating that we should expect artists "to stand as critics not just of their particular milieu but of their society, and of their age". Even so, he regrets the advent of the artist-critic, i.e. novelists 'feeling' their way through criticism, rather than using the tools of theory to review literature. Instead, Amis, who could easily have traded on his name and fallen in step with these artist-critics, uses a background of unabashed joy in the face of literary theory to give his reviews weight.
If the above makes the collection sound pedantic and tiresome, don't worry. It isn't.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 3.4 Stars, but should be soooo much better Jan. 12 2002
Format:Hardcover
Martin Amis is the son of the late Kingsley Amis. Half of England's literary critics consider Amis pere to be one of the greatest English novelists of the last half of the previous century. The other half don't disagree, they just find that fact enormously depressing. Martin Amis is the author of several novels which, highly influenced by Nabokov, are very funny, extremely mordant and much better than his father's. Martin Amis is also a skillful and intelligent and amusing journalist, as well as an accomplished memoirist. So surely this collection of literary criticism and essays should belong on the same high shelves with Christopher Hitchens' For the Sake of Argument, Dwight Macdonald's Against the American Grain, Alexander Cockburn's Corruptions of Empire, Conor Cruise O'Brien's Writers and Politics, Alan Bennett's Writing Home, James Wood's The Broken Estate or even Tom Paulin's Ireland and the English Crisis.
Yet there is something a bit off about collection. We start off with a collection of reviews on masculinity, looking at Iron John, Hillary Clinton, Nuclear War and Pornography. Then it's on to a collection of reviews of English writers, then to an extended defence of his father's closest friend, the poet Philip Larkin. We proceed to reviews of more canonical writers, then a review of popular novels, then a whole section on Vladimir Nabokov. We then go on to a section on American writers, a section labelled "obsessions and curiosities", a whole section devoted to John Updike, another section that is mostly about V.S. Naipaul and then five concluding essays on great novels. Surely there is much for everyone to enjoy.
It's not that Amis isn't amusing.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wit and - well deserved - criticism Nov. 22 2001
Format:Hardcover
This collection of Amis'best essays cover a wide variety of topics from reviews of good and bad writers to Hillary Clinton, a hilarious endictement of Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, The Space Shield, Chess and an outline of the books he most admires from Nabokov to Vidal. i have yet to read all the essays and have thus far concentrated on the less litertay ones, those that deal with public figures and issues. i found thee alone to be worth the price of the book. As the title of the book suggests Amiks aims his criticism toward uncritical and banal thinkers. it is not, however, a necessarily political book. Amis criticizes art on its own merit and not its relevance to a social or political cause. In this sense it is different than an another excellent essay collection by Christopher Hitchens, Unacknowledged Legislation, who stresses the political obligations of writers.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Young defender of the old guard Nov. 6 2001
Format:Hardcover
Great great writing. All his usual faves--Bellow, Larkin, DeLillo, and much more. Too defensive about and minimizing of Larkin's racism etc., but then he grew up with it not me. Amis at his snooty proud best.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent March 20 2003
Format:Paperback
perhaps the funniest, most acutely perceptive book i've ever read. Amis is excellent on style, wide-ranging in scope (early on, we have the unforgettable depiction of the new man, nappy in one hand, pack of tarot cards in the other), and amusingly critical of his youthful self (he lambasted a new collection of Coleridge's work without bothering to thoroughly acquaint himself with its contents).
i didn't agree with all of his 'findings'. while Amis makes an excellent case for the undeniable stylistic mastery of Bellow's 'The Adventures of Augie March', he doesn't acknowledge the rambling nature of the book, the great lists of characters that are wheeled on and off all the time so that the reader struggles to remember anyone but the narrator and his brother, the boring avuncular tone.
overall - leaves other literary critics fumbling with their trainers in the starting blocks while he's already run the race, picked up the medal, and is taking his shower in the changing rooms.
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