My smarty pants friend introduced me to Martin Amis as a ‘must read author’ and I tucked into two of his novels the last time I was in Ireland. So I was quite pleased when the parental posted me a copy of his latest offering, The Pregnant Widow.
Described on the back cover as “a comedy of manners and a nightmare, brilliant, haunting and gloriously risqué”, the book moves between the summer of 1970 and the present day. It centres around the lives of a group of young friends and their various means of coping with the sexual revolution. These coping methods range from brazen sluttiness to demure horror at the casual round the pool semi-nudity that takes place.
The main character is Keith Nearing, who frankly is rather annoying. He is a whiny individual, and has the mentality of a horny 14 year old. But I rather think the point is for the reader not to like him much. Keith is completely adrift in the sea of awakening female sexual power, and absolutely does not know how to handle himself (although we hear about him handling himself quite a lot). He would like girls to wear sexy pants and hop into bed with him, regardless of his girlfriend, but he would also like his sister to stop hopping into bed with quite so many men. Ah, the age old dilemma. Although there is a sense of not being quite sure how many of his sexual escapades really happened, and how many are all in his over-heated imagination, the book ultimately leads us to see how this traumatic change in the roles of the genders has impacted on Keith’s delicate psyche and pretty much stuffed up his chances of having a normal relationship. Bless.
Martin Amis is not for the faint-hearted. He is graphic in his descriptions of what goes on between the sheets (or in a tent, or in the fields) and he’s not afraid to make his characters controversial. But he gets away with what might otherwise be just smutty by loading his books with literary references and writing in an overly intellectual style that can at times be quite heavy going. So, you’re not supposed to read the book for the sex bits, but rather for the message about human relationships behind the sex bits. Mills and Boon it is not.
I have to be honest and admit that I did not enjoy The Pregnant Widow as much as I enjoyed previous novels by this author – London Fields would still be my recommendation for anyone wanting to try him out. Amis so successfully created an oppressive atmosphere that I actually had to take a little sabbatical and read something else halfway through. I never do that. But again, I think this is just more indication of Amis achieving what he wants – his books are not meant to be light, poolside reads and his characters always make for uncomfortable companions.
So if you’re looking for something that requires a bit more thought than the standard quick read, give Martin Amis a whirl. Be prepared to have your comfort zones invaded.
My copy of The Pregnant Widow was published in 2010 by Jonathan Cape.