London crooks nurse old grievances and settle older scores as Amis has his witty way with porno, Hollywood, modern marriage, airline terror, incest, chatrooms, the Royals, and the gutter press.
The narrative stream is thick here, and, if this is possible in a book, kind of loud, like the ramblings of an extremely entertaining if rather boozy raconteur in a noisy pub. And if the listener is American, there’s something of the translation problem as Amis (Koba the Dread, 2002, etc.) lays on the criminal class argot with a trowel, but it’s huge fun even at 85% comprehension what with the great goofy targets and Amis’s evil humor that goes to the brain’s bad pleasure receptors like the very best drugs. The setup is the mysterious mugging of Xan Meo, a London film personage of criminal descent. Well and very successfully into his second marriage, Meo is alone and celebrating his maturity with a couple of drinks when a pair of toughs clobber him into insensibility, advising him between blows of his error: the mention in print of a Joseph Andrews. Joseph Andrews? Amis follows Meo through his recuperation and efforts to make sense of the nonsensical beating and the culpable connection to a Fielding novel. Concurrently, England’s King Henry IX whose resemblance to a real-world prince is unmistakable, wrestles limply with extortionists who have pictures of the Princess Royal in the bath, and the slovenly star “reporter” of the gamiest tabloid in the solar system seeks love and a more manly manhood. Meo’s search for meaning is grievously hampered by addled memories and very unpleasant personality alterations, and his marriage is in great peril. Sorting it out involves a beautiful and bent porno star, a trip to sleaziest California, and much consultation with Meo’s breathtakingly violent career-criminal relatives. The King’s diggings will tap into some of the same veins that Meo’s working.
Raucous, confusing, hilarious, and, when least expected, furiously intelligent and touching.