Having read Money: A Suicide Note and Time's Arrow: or The Nature of Offence previously and having been entirely enamored with the latter while not getting what all the hubbub about the former was about, I went into Martin Amis's latest novel Lionel Asbo: State of England in the hopes that it would strike a chord much more similar to the one that Time's Arrow struck. While Lionel Asbo was a mostly entertaining read, it wasn't the propulsive work of genius that Time's Arrow was, which I suppose shouldn't be the expectation for any book and is an unfair standard by which to judge Lionel Asbo (buy it here) against but is nonetheless what I found myself thinking when all was said and done.
Judged on its own merits, without prejudice from having read other Amis novels, Lionel Asbo: State of England is an enjoyable comic novel set on the wrong side of the British tracks following Desmond Pepperdine, a mixed race orphan being raised by his miscreant thug of an uncle who has chosen to take on the last name of Asbo, derived from the abbreviation for an Anti-Social Behaviour Order--a civil order handed down to a person shown to act out in anti-social ways. For all of Desmond's strong suits, Lionel stands at the opposite end of the spectrum, allowing for Amis to get laughs, and in some cases ratchet up the tension, using the sharp contrast between the pair to that end. For the most part, this works. There are, however, moments where the character of Lionel stops being interesting and is just irritating, and this is where the novel loses a bit of its luster.
Is Lionel Asbo: State of England Amis's best work? That's a decisive 'no,' but not every book can be Time's Arrow.