Like John Updike, Martin Amis is the pre-eminent novelist-critic of his generation. The War Against Cliche is a selection of his reviews and essays over the past quarter-century. It contains pieces on Cervantes, Milton, Donne, Coleridge, Jane Austen, Dickens, Kafka, Philip Larkin, Joyce, Waugh, Lowry, Nabokov, F. R. Leavis, V. S. Pritchett, William Burroughs, Anthony Burgess, Angus Wilson, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Shiva and V. S. Naipaul, Kurt Vonnegut, Iris Murdoch, Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal, Don DeLillo, Elmore Leonard, Michael Crichton, Thomas Harris - and John Updike. Other subjects include chess, nuclear weapons, masculinity, screen censorship, juvenile violence, Andy Warhol, Hillary Clinton, and Margaret Thatcher.
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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, Amazon.co.ukFrom the Inside Flap:
Is there "anything that Martin Amis can't write about? In this virtuosic, career-spanning collection he takes on James Joyce and Elvis Presley, Nabokov and English football, Jane Austen and "Penthouse Forum, William Burroughs and Hillary Clinton. But above all, Amis is concerned with literature, and with the deadly cliches-not only of the pen, but of the mind and the heart.
In The War Against Cliche," Amis serves up fresh assessments of the classics and plucks neglected masterpieces off their dusty shelves. He tilts with Cervantes, Dickens and Milton, celebrates Bellow, Updike and Elmore Leonard, and deflates some of the most bloated reputations of the past three decades. On every page Amis writes with jaw-dropping felicity, wit, and a subversive brilliance that sheds new light on everything he touches.
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