18 February 2010

The Pregnant Widow (Martin Amis)

There are some voices that you’re grateful to hear, no matter the context or your mood. For me they are the voices that speak always in the imperative. The voices that demand my attention. Cormac McCarthy, Kazuo Ishiguro… and of course, Martin Amis.

The Pregnant Widow has received some less-than favourable reviews, with many harping on about the fact that the writing is no longer enough- at some point a certain amount of plot needs to be injected in order to keep the reader’s attention. I don’t really care about all that. Case in point: I have an extremely short attention span, yet I raced through the book. All I need is a certain amount of attitude and Amis provides that in abundance. Yes, the story is king. But Amis makes his prose the story and anyone who feels the need for more plot should pick up a Matthew Reilly.

The novel brought all my anxieties as a writer to the forefront, channelling, I suppose, the insecurities Keith Nearing expresses. I struggle to name distinctive female characters whose fame comes from their voice rather than their actions. Go into a bookshop and you trip over women who act in amazing ways- sacrificing this, loving that, schlepping here, toiling there- but how many female voices carry the distinguished air of the truly original? Where is the female Ignatius J. Reilly, Charles Highway or Vernon Little? I’m not taking Amis to task for not giving his female characters more distinctive voices. He is a male, and he should write as one. But it follows then, that, as a GIRL, I should write as one. Keith, Amis’ highly autobiographical twenty-year old self, is not to be confused with previous Keiths in Amis’ past. He is more evolved than Keith Talent (London Fields) and not as hideously revolting as Keith Whitehead (Dead Babies). He is brilliantly written; instantly likeable without doing anything of merit. No author could write so honestly about the opposite sex.

Why then do I persist in scribbling out narratives from the male perspective? It’s not as though I actually know what I’m talking about. However, whenever I attempt to write as a girl I end up absolutely detesting the character. Every thought I pen seems vacuous, pathetic, calculated to impress, hiding an empty, cavernous, pink nothing. It’s not self-loathing. I adore myself. I just don’t know how to tap into the real of it all like Amis can.

I hadn’t worked out until just recently why it is I think I enjoy Amis’ novels so much. The brutal wit and carefully constructed style allow his characters to remain rather emotionally removed from the reader. I find this quite comforting. It is not COLD, it is a device to heighten the satire. On a personal level, it is calming, steadying, to not be able to feel Keith’s tears fall from the pages. With his manipulation of language and barbarous, throw-away dialogue Amis is like a young man lighting up with matches instead plastic, adopting an air of old-school peculiarity cultivated to ensure distanced attention. As an overly emotional creature myself I quite enjoy those people in my life who seem to remain impervious to all that, in the same way I enjoy books that hold me at arm’s length. I am able to think better when I am not sobbing into a pile of soggy tissues, shrieking at Earhart “The Russians got him! I’ll never be happy again.”

The Pregnant Widow didn’t educe any such melodrama. I merely picked it up in my favourite bookshop and hugged it- smiling- to myself, knowing that whatever was contained within the pages was going to be important in someway. Not always the most pleasant of narrators and hardly ever in agreement with my own sentiments, Amis’ is nevertheless a voice I will always make room for.

Rating: 9/10.

Search Engine Submission - AddMe