This remarkably tedious new novel by Martin Amis is a sort of messy improvisation on Boccaccio’s 14th-century collection of tales known as “The Decameron,” which concerned a group of young people spending an interlude together in an Italian villa and explored the varieties and disappointments of love. Jane Smiley tried something similar in her tiresome 2007 novel, “Ten Days in the Hills,” and in “The Pregnant Widow,” Mr. Amis makes many of the same mistakes she did — most notably, assuming that readers will be interested in a bunch of spoiled, self-absorbed twits, who natter on endlessly about their desires and resentments and body parts.
Mr. Amis’s 1976 novel, “Dead Babies,” used a similar mise-en-scène (“Widow” moves the setting from an English country house to an Italian castle), and a comparison between the two only serves to underscore the shortcomings of this new book, which sorely lacks its predecessor’s snap, crackle and fizz.
Whereas the author’s early works, like “Dead Babies” and “The Rachel Papers,” were animated by a satiric gift for social observation and a deliciously black wit, this novel tackles the same themes — sex and identity and coming of age — with weary determination, and lacquers them all with pompous, inanely rococo meditations about the nature of art and truth. (“Recently when he was out in the street, he used to think: Beauty is gone. He soon moved forward from this position, and thought, Beauty never was — there never was any.”)
So we've got :
spoiled, self-absorbed twits
natter on aimlessly
pompous, inanely rococo
And that's just in the first three paragraphs.
As Anne Lamott said in Salon in 2002:
"This is my ninth book and I have never gotten a daily review in the Times -- not that I am bitter. Nope, nope, nothing could be further from the truth. It's just that I secretly believe that if Michiko Kakutani likes your work, it means you are a real writer, and you will be happy and and wealthy and stable forever. The one little problem with Michiko, though, is that if she doesn't like your book, she will kill you -- cut your head off with a surgical knife, and play hacky-sack with it until she grows bored. Then, maybe in the last paragraph, she'll pour acid on it.
So that's definitely a downside.
This is April again. Maybe I should be happy I've never been reviewed in the Times. But my name has been in the NYT Book Review. Can you guess how?