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The War Against Cliche: Essays and Reviews 1971-2000 Paperback – July 16, 2002

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Editorial Reviews Review

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, --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (July 16, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375727167
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375727160
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.3 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #525,432 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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72 of 75 people found the following review helpful By Mike Stone on February 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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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Sirin on March 14, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Martin Amis is one of those rare writers who found his voice staggeringly early in life (one of his greatest novels, the Rachel Papers came out when he was only 23) and has remained on a largely mercurial track to become one of Britain's most celebrated author-critics.

The Introduction to 'The War Against Cliche' is a retrospective commentary on the decline of literary criticism from its 60s and 70s heyday: 'In the 60s you could live on ten shillings a week: you slept on people's floors and sponged off your friends and sang for your supper - about literary criticism'. Then the oil crises hiked up prices, democracy unleashed its dynamic forces against elite forms of culture and criticism became a dispensible frippery of the educated middle classes. Now, in the era of the internet, everyone in a sense has become a literary critic - witness the tens of thousands of reviews posted on this website. Amis ultimately isn't adverse to this. He likens Literature to a 'great garden', trampled extensively by public participation. But this is Eden, it is unfallen, therefore the ignorant and the illiterate cannot undermine what lies at the root of great literature: talent.

The essays in this book can be linked by a desire on the part of the writer to pinpoint and appreciate talented writing amongst the millions of words that have been scribed in English Literature. Amis ultimately finds it in the writings of the great American authors of the late 20th Century - Bellow, Updike and, most notably, Nabokov. But the journey to uncover these deities of the literary scene is laden with wrong turns and amusing digressions. Thus Amis presents us with an amusing consideration of a Hillary Clinton book on childrearing: ''Village' is a portrait of a First Lady who deserves a second change.
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34 of 40 people found the following review helpful By on January 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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