Book: Yellow Dog, Martin Amis
There was a touch of poetry in the critical kicking that was given to Martin Amis’s tenth novel, the scabrous Yellow Dog (2003): as the blows landed, in review after hyperbolically terrible review, the book itself took on a snarling, cornered, cur-like vitality, a rare stink of nothing-left-to-lose. “Yellow Dog isn’t bad as in not very good or slightly disappointing,” wrote fellow Brit novelist Tibor Fischer, in an instantly notorious takedown. “It’s not-knowing-where-to-look bad. . . . It’s like your favorite uncle being caught in a school playground, masturbating.” The Times’ Michiko Kakutani, meanwhile, recoiled so spectacularly from her review copy that she almost wrote a decent sentence: “Martin Amis’s new novel reads like a sendup of a Martin Amis novel written by someone intent on sabotaging his reputation.” Is that supposed to be a bad thing?
In Yellow Dog, Amis uses every trick, prop, fake mustache, and exploding cigar in his writer’s bag, and mobilizes every one of his obsessions, in a self-satirizing, dignity-defying attempt at a grand social novel. The scope is Dickensian, from Buckingham Palace to the villains of London’s East End — the mini-novels about the wistful and invertebrate Henry IX (“How could it be arranged that such creatures play a part in God’s plen?”) and the recidivist psycho Joseph Andrews (“There ain’t a form of punishment meted out in His Majesty’s Prisons that I’ve not took.”) are pitch-perfect. And even if they weren’t — even if the whole book were a boiling farrago of tastelessness and authorial vainglory — Yellow Dog would be guaranteed immortality by the following observation, from page 8: “After a while, marriage is a sibling relationship — marked by occasional, and rather regrettable lapses into incest.” No masturbating uncle ever wrote better.
— James Parker