The War Against Cliche: Essays and Reviews, 1971-2000 Paperback – Jul 16 2002
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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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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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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.