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Lionel Asbo

State of England

by Martin Amis

Paperback, 272 pages, Vintage, List Price: $15 |


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Lionel Asbo
State of England
Martin Amis

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Hardcover, 320 pages, Knopf, $25.95, published August 21 2012 | purchase

Buy Featured Book

Lionel Asbo
State of England
Martin Amis

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Book Summary

Asbo is an acronym for "anti-social behavior order," and Lionel Asbo certainly demonstrates the anti-social tendencies of his name. This satire of modern society and celebrity culture features Lionel as the uncle of young Desmond Pepperdine, a crime reporter. Desmond's seemingly simple pursuits are hampered by Lionel's near-criminal habits, which become more prominent when Lionel wins the lottery.

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Awards and Recognition

1 week on NPR Hardcover Fiction Bestseller List

Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: Lionel Asbo


Dear Jennaveieve,

I'm having an affair with an older woman. Shes' a lady of some sophistication, and makes a refreshing change from the teen agers I know (like Alektra for example, or Chanel.) The sex is fantastic and I think I'm in love. But ther'es one very serious complication and i'ts this; shes' my Gran!

Desmond Pepperdine (Desmond, Des, Desi), the author of this document, was fifteen and a half. And his handwriting, nowadays, was self-consciously elegant; the letters used to slope backward, but he patiently trained them to slope forward; and when everything was smoothly conjoined he started adding little flourishes (his e was positively ornate — like a w turned on its side). Using the computer he now shared with his uncle, Des had given himself a course on calligraphy, among several other courses.

On the plus-side, the age-difference is surprisingly

He crossed that bit out, and resumed.

It started a fort-night ago when she rang up and said its the plumbing again love. And I said nan? I'll be right over. She lives in a granny flat under a house about a mile away and theres allways some thing wrong with it's plumbing. Now I'm no plumber but I learnd a bit from my Uncle George whose in the trade. I sorted it out for her and she said why not stay for a few drink's?

Calligraphy (and sociology, and anthropology, and psychology), but not yet punctuation. He was a good little speller, Des, but he knew how weak his punctuation was because he had just begun a course on it. And punctuation, he (quite rightly) intuited, was something of an art.

So we had a few Dubonnet's which I'm not used to, and she was giving me these funny look's. She's all ways got the Beatles' on and she was playing all the slow one's like Golden Slumber's, Yester-day, and Sh'es Leaving Home. Then gran says its so hot I'll just slip in to my night-dress. And she came back in a babydoll!

He was trying to give himself an education — not at Squeers Free, recently singled out, he read in the Diston Gazette, as the worst school in England. But his understanding of the planet and the universe had inconceivable voids in it. He was repeatedly amazed by the tonnage of what he didn't know.

So we had a few more drink's, and I was noticing how well preserved she is. She's taken good care of herself and shes really f t considering the life shes' led. So after a few more drink's she says are'nt you frying alive in that blazer? Come over here handsome, and give us a cuddle! Well what could I do. She put her hand on my thigh and slid it up my short's. Well I'm only human aren't I? The stereo was playing I Should Of Known Better — but one thing lead to another, and it was mind blowing!

For instance, the only national newspaper Des had ever read was the Morning Lark. And Jennaveieve, his addressee, was its agony aunt — or better say its ecstasy aunt. The page she presided over consisted of detailed accounts of perhaps wholly imaginary liaisons, and her replies consisted of a lewd pun followed by an exclamation mark. Desmond's tale was not imaginary.

Now you must believe me that this is all very "out of character." It was never mean't to be! Okay we live in Diston, where that sort of thing isn't much frownd up on. And, okay my Gran had a mischivous youth. But she's a respectable woman. The thing is shes got a big birthday coming up and I reckon its turnd her head. As for myself, my background is strict Christian at least on my fathers side (Pentecostalist.) And you see Jennaveieve, I've been very unhappy since my Mum, Cilla passed away three year's ago. I can't find the word's. I needed gentleness. And when gran touched me like that. Well.

Des had no intention of actually mailing his letter to Jennaveieve (whose partly naked body also adorned the page headed, not Ecstasy Aunt, but Agony Angel). He was writing it simply to ease his own mind. He imagined Jennaveieve's dependably non-judgemental reply. Something like: At least you're having a Gran old time! Des wrote on.

Apart from the legal question which is worrying me sick, theres another huge problem. Her son, Lionel is my uncle, and hes' like a father to me when he's not in prison. See hes an extremely violent criminal and if he find's out I'm giving his Mum one, hell fucking kill me. Literally!

It might be argued that this was a grave underestimation of Lionel's views on trespass and reprisal ... The immediate goal, for Des, was to master the apostrophe. After that, the arcana of the colon and the semicolon, the hyphen, the dash, the slash.

On the plus-side, the age-gap is not that big. See Granny Grace was an early starter, and fell pregnant when she was 12, just like my M

He heard the thick clunks of the locks, he looked with horror at

his watch, he tried to stand upright on deadened legs — and suddenly

Lionel was there.


Lionel was there, a great white shape, leaning on the open door with his brow pressed to his raised wrist, panting huskily, and giving off a faint grey steam in his purple singlet (the lift was misbehaving, and the flat was on the thirty-third floor — but then again Lionel could give off steam while dozing in bed on a quiet afternoon). Under his other arm he was carrying a consignment of lager. Two dozen, covered in polythene. Brand: Cobra.

'You're back early, Uncle Li.'

He held up a callused palm. They waited. In his outward appearance Lionel was brutally generic — the slablike body, the full lump of the face, the tight-shaved crown with its tawny stubble. Out in the great world city, there were hundreds of thousands of young men who looked pretty much like Lionel Asbo. In certain lights and settings he resembled, some said, the England and Manchester United prodigy, striker Wayne Rooney: not exceptionally tall, and not fat, but exceptionally broad and exceptionally deep (Des saw his uncle every day — and Lionel was always one size bigger than expected). He even had Rooney's gap-toothed smile. Well, the upper incisors were widely spaced, yet Lionel very seldom smiled. You only saw them when he sneered.

"... What you doing there with that pen? What's that you writing? Guiss it."

Des thought fast. "Uh, it's about poetry, Uncle Li."

"Poetry?" said Lionel and started back.

"Yeah. Poem called The Faerie Queene."

"The what? ... I despair of you sometimes, Des. Why aren't you out smashing windows? It's not healthy. Oh yeah, listen to this. You know the bloke I bashed up in the pub the other Friday? Mr. 'Ross Knowles,' if you please? He's only pressing charges. Grassed me. Would you credit it."

Desmond knew how Lionel was likely to feel about such a move. One night last year Lionel came home to find Des on the black leatherette sofa, innocently slumped in front of Crimewatch. The result was one of the longest and noisiest slappings he had ever received at his uncle's hands. They had members of the public, said Lionel, standing in front of the giant screen with his arms akimbo, to fink on they own neighbors. Crimewatch, it's like a ... like a programme for paedophiles, that is. It disgusts me. Now Des said,

"He went to the law? Aw, that's ... That's ... the lowest of the low, that is. What you going to do, Uncle Li?"

"Well I've been asking around and it turns out he's a loner. Lives in a bedsit. So there's no one I can go and terrify. Except him."

"But he's still in the hospital."

"So? I'll take him a bunch of grapes. You feed the dogs?"

Excerpted from Lionel Asbo by Martin Amis. Copyright 2012 by Martin Amis. Excerpted by permission of Knopf.