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Last Updated: Monday, 8 September, 2003, 13:07 GMT 14:07 UK
Yellow Dog
Martin Amis
Martin Amis first full-length novel for eight years - was loudly dismissed as rubbish before publication by another novelist: Tibor Fischer. The book combines storylines about fights, flights, princesses and porn films linked by the character of Xan Meo.

(Edited highlights of the panel's review taken from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight Review.)

KWAME KWEI-ARMAH:
Well you know, everyone was bashing him, and so I really, really wanted to like this. And, at first, I thought I was really going to. You know the Xan Meo character I really liked. He says something at the beginning, where "Sometimes I feel like I'm living in a country of 60 million celebrities, everyone is living the celebrity lifestyle." I was really digging it. Then, I stopped. And I had stopped liking the book really. I didn't like it and I didn't want to not like it, but I didn't. It saddens me because he is a master technician. But I just found myself in this book not quite wanting to carry on reading.

MARK LAWSON:
What turned you off it?

KWAME KWEI-ARMAH:
Well you know, I don't often use the word masculine in its pejorative way, but I found it really kind of boyie and kind of laddish and all about at the beginning, masturbation and tits and porn, and I just found it¿ it just didn't grab me.

TOM PAULIN:
I enjoyed it, really for quite a bit of it, for the first third, past the page 60 post fine. I sailed on, I got interested in the tabloid journalist Clint Smoker. I was fascinated by the text messages coming through, but eventually I realised they were e-mails cast in text message ease, which I found odd because people don't write e-mails like that. But I thought if you like Joyce and Lawrence Stern saying somebody pushed the language in another direction in prose, is terrifically exciting. Then I got lost in the American porn section. Didn't like the about to crash airliner's section which I thought was a form of pornography, a kind of terrible tease. Then I just thought that the lack of melody in the prose 'as he climbed from the car a boob job of a raindrop gut flopped on his bald spot.'

MARK LAWSON:
I thought that was a tremendous sentence, that.

TOM PAULIN:
Well you see, if you look at that, if you scan that it suffers from an excess of spondees, you know, two strong stresses together, you need to modulate the music and introduce shades of stress in sentences and lines of verse. He can't to that. So, although I loved the grotty atmosphere, the spent atmosphere, the urban directs, the usual Martin Amis subject, the weightlessness of it, except for the way he brought in the Royal Family, I thought his association with charter 88 had brought out some kind of republicanism! He couldn't push it far enough. Of course he has no historical imagination, no political sense whatsoever, which is his generation's curse. They know nothing about politics or history.

MARK LAWSON:
He is your generation, isn't he?

TOM PAULIN:
He is. But, I find in this country this generation, they're done for, even if you take Michael Freyn, no political sense whatsoever, no ability to analyse anything.

RACHEL HOMES:
Like Kwame, I really wanted to¿ I really tried to read this book objectively, I felt responsible to separate out the whole media furore of people baying for his blood from reading a novel. We ought to be able to do that, and I really tried. I found it however, trying. I didn't think that the attempt to, for example, play around with new technologies in language worked at all.

KWAME KWEI-ARMAH:
No, it didn't.

RACHEL HOLMES:
There are many other novelists who have already incorporated that into stylistic...

TOM PAULIN:
Are there more text messages in novels?

MARK LAWSON:
There are many more.

RACHEL HOLMES:
There are whole novels structured around text messages.

TOM PAULIN:
Are there?

RACHEL HOLMES:
So I just felt that was it was 'oh, I've just discovered this and so it gets incorporated'.

MARK LAWSON:
No you see it isn't that he's discovered it. I want to put in a defensive because I've read this book twice and actually the second time I was waiting for that sentence that Tom was just mocking. He is about hitting every word. At his best, he is making every word work and he does in that sentence. It's about a tapestry of language, he puts in the text messages because that is the new form of language.

RACHEL HOLMES:
Even a tapestry has got to have a relevant theme.

KWAME KWEI-ARMAH:
As you said Tom, when I was reading it, is this a text? And it wasn't, you know it was e-mail and people don't communicate like that. I felt it had missed the beat.

MARK LAWSON:
I think its because they were quite long and they would cost £300 or so to send them as a text message so it had to be an email. Well it's a minor point.

RACHEL HOLMES:
There were verbal fireworks, and yes, you have your rich tapestry and yes there are moments where it works, it depends on your mood. Sometimes the jokes about love and bugger are funny, sometimes they're not. But there is this creeping moralism, tabloid journalists are a kind of sexual inadequate muck rakers. Oh, yes we know that! Children are redemptive, yes we know that. I have no problem with novelists going back to the same themes or working them out their whole career, that's fine if they remain interesting. But they are not. I'd be interested to see him working with his skilful language on some new themes.


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