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 Shifting his notoriously keen eye and exquisite wit from the Holocaust echoes of Time's Arrow (1991) to the dismal inanity of a failed writer's life, Amis comes up short of unqualified success- -this time, though, in a novel that's drawn a lot of attention, thanks to the gargantuan (by British standards) advance paid for it, and that's already been written up and talked over in a recent New Yorker profile. ``He was forty tomorrow, and reviewed books.'' With this, the miserable lot of Richard Tull--once-published novelist, ever-lesser critic, and lash-tongued lush--begins to take its sorry shape. His failures are magnified and multiplied in the mirror of ``friend'' Gwyn Barry's achievements. Gwyn's latest simpering fiction, the sexless, strifeless, deathless utopian novel Amelior, has spawned an international megabuzz. Infuriated by the dimensions of the travesty, Richard plots Gwyn's demise by any means possible, but every scheme backfires, leaving Richard ever more marginalized--a sputtering dwarf star to Barry's show-stopping supernova. The constellation of dirty tricks ranges from incessant disparagement in public and private to a coke-driven, utterly feckless pass at Gwyn's wife; from an ill-conceived but systematic sandbagging of chances for the vaunted American ``Profundity Prize'' to hiring a hit-man/sociopath to break Gwyn's spirit as well as his bones. But this last blow, when inevitably deflected, comes near to depriving Richard of what he comes to appreciate as his great prize: his two sons. His redemption, a course of literary, physical, and familial humiliations, ultimately prompts his retirement as a writer and the stilling of the savageness in his heart--a turn of events leaving no one fully satisfied. Line for line, this richly styled tale is as sweet as one expects from a writer of Amis's stunning phrase- sophistication, but along with sheer delight in the language comes the sinking feeling of too loose a collection of characters, schemes, and sensation. A palate-pleasing feast of foie gras and petits fours--not quite the sustained, sustaining fare through which both body and mind can expand in appreciation. (First serial to the New Yorker; author tour)

Pub Date: May 3rd, 1995
ISBN: 0-517-58516-2
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Harmony
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1995


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