Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Visiting Mrs Nabokov and Other ExcursionsVisiting Mrs Nabokov and Other Excursions by Martin Amis
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

"Visually, though, one got some point of [...] Mick. This well-put-together, vitamin-packed unit of a human being does not really dance any more: it's simply that his head, his shoulders, his pelvis, both his arms, both his legs, both his huge feet and both his buttocks are wriggling, at great speed, independently, all the time."

The hilarious quote is, of course, about Mick Jagger, whose stage performance during the 1976 Rolling Stones concert at Earls Court did not impress Martin Amis much; I wonder what the author would write about twerking, were he inclined to watch such a highly sophisticated dance performance. The quote also provides a general sense of what the reader might expect from Martin Amis' collection Visiting Mrs. Nabokov and Other Excursions (1993). The author himself provides a dead-on description of his work: "a book of this kind [might be] described by a reviewer as 'a garage sale': the writer [is] selling his junk, in informal surroundings."

Visiting Mrs. Nabokov is a collection of 33 short journalistic pieces that were published in various newspapers and magazines, such as Observer, Vanity Fair, Premiere, Vogue, etc., between mid-1970s and the early 1990s. The topics range from entertainment, through sports, to politics, and - of course - literature. Most of the material here is pure journalistic fluff - topical, gossipy, and lightweight - but this fluff is extremely well-written, as usual for Mr. Amis, and occasionally hilarious. So even if the material is not quite relevant after so many years, it is hard not to laugh out loud when reading, for example, the following characterization of Isaac Asimov's autobiography: "[...] the book's most persistent theme is Asimov's inexhaustible, all-conquering self-love." Not only is the piece about Madonna's (that is Ms. Ciccone's) book Sex outrageously funny - my natural modesty prevents me from quoting numerous juicy bits that involve Ms. Ciccone's love of her certain body parts - but it is also quite astute about the essence of the post-modern culture and entertainment.

Few pieces are more serious: I particularly like the vitriolic essay about the British writer, John Braine, and the portrayal of his evolution from the idiotic left-wing stance when he was praising civil freedoms in the Soviet Union of the 1950s to equally cretinous right-wing pronouncements later in his life. I like the thoughtful piece on Roman Polanski, and to end with the timely topic of elections in the U.S., here's a great quote from a bit about the Republican Party convention in 1988, where Mr. Amis presents the main speakers thusly: "An actor, then an actress, then an ad, and then another actor - Reagan, with the Speech."

Yet - despite occasionally apparent wisdom, great writing, and frequently hilarious bits - it would be awkward in 2016 to recommend this somewhat dated collection.

Two and a half stars.

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