The Pregnant Widow finds Amis revisiting the territory of his first novel, The Rachel Papers: the sexual awakening of a precocious short-arse. Writers in their twenties delivering priapic novels is one thing; a mature author obsessively dwelling on the same subject has a more muckily prurient feel, as if much of it was written wearing a Mac and Wellingtons.
The Pregnant Widows excess comes in another form, too. Martin Amis is the finest English fiction writer of his generation; at least, thats what it says on the dust jacket. Whether he is or whether he isnt, a lot of people with a lot of column inches at their disposal seem to be falling backwards over themselves to fawn over his latest output. And its evident from the off that the person most in thrall to Amiss skills as a prose stylist is Amis himself; he loses no opportunity in The Pregnant Widow to display the results of a diet of dictionary eating. The plot a comedy of manners about the sexual revolution of the 1970s and its slippery aftermath is of decidedly secondary importance to Amiss fascination with his own ability. Barely a sentence is without with some literary frill or other, each with an almost visible nod to the writers own cleverness. The story seems to be of much less concern, and there are times when the reader gets so caught up in first admiring, then becoming exasperated with, the writers insistent clever-dickery, that he or she loses track of or should that be interest in whats actually going on. The showoffery is so arrant and so tedious that the sixty-year old writers offering has more in common with the small child whose artistic outpourings are Blu-tacked to the walls of its indulgent parents lavatory than a writer whose word-craft is in the service of telling a story.
Contrast this indulgence with Nick Kents Apathy for The Devil. Both books represent gentlemen of a certain age with stellar reputations in their fields exploring the untrammelled hedonism and unbridled excess of the 1970s a time when they were young and wide open to such heady influences. But in Kents case, its straightforward: the massively talented fop of 1970s rock journalism was a falling-down, smacked-out mess. A wide-eyed kid, hungry for the romance of rock n roll, Kent hung out with the music scenes low-life junkie lords Iggy Pop and Keith Richards and picked up a very dirty habit of his own, while collecting a pack of tales that bear re-telling.
Kents younger self cuts a slightly pathetic, court jesterish figure as he lurches from one misadventure to another in the courts of rock royalty, but its hard not to warm to him. As well as retelling with undiminished passion stories of the musicians he encountered, Kent gives a personal account of his excess with the disarming honesty and self-deprecating comedy of someone who, having fallen into dereliction of mind, body and soul, has managed to pull his life and writing ability back together, and is desperately grateful for the second chance hes been granted. Its a wry, sad, funny and insistently readable evocation of a time and place and a self-willed fall from grace.