As Martin Amis is generally considered one of the most brilliant British novelists of his generation, the publication of each of his books becomes a media event in Great Britain. Because novels such as Money (1984),London Fields (1989), and The Information (1995) are decidedly American in their styles and themes, with similarities to the works of such writers as Saul Bellow and Don DeLillo, Amis also elicits considerable attention from the literary establishment in the United States. Yellow Dogis especially notable because of a controversy about its literary quality.
Xan Meo is a self-styled renaissance man: a well-known British actor; author of Lucozade, a collection of short stories; and occasional rhythm guitarist for a bar band. After an unhappy first marriage, he is married to Dr. Russia Tannenbaum, a history professor at King’s College, London, and they have two young daughters. Though Xan has given up the bad habits of his past, every year on his birthday he celebrates his newfound sobriety by going to Hollywood, his onetime favorite pub, to drink and smoke. This year, shortly after his arrival, he is taken outside and beaten severely. Apparently, he has somewhere mentioned the name of someone who should not be mentioned.
Amis alternates between relating Xan’s painful recovery from a head injury, (one that changes his perspective considerably, especially toward women) with events from the lives of three other sets of characters. One centers around Henry IX, king of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Henry’s life is also uneasy. He deplores “the condition of being royal: it was always on at you and it never let you be.” Making matters worse, his queen, Pamela, lies in a coma following a fall from a horse, and his beloved only child, the fifteen-year-old Victoria, has been unwittingly photographed in the nude. Should Henry pull the plug on Pamela? Can he head off the unscrupulous media’s exploitation of the video of his daughter?
Henry relies greatly upon his confidante and longtime best friend, Brendan Urquhart-Gordon. Brendan’s situation is made more complex by his unrequited love for the princess, thirty years his junior.
Clint Smoker writes for the least scrupulous of London tabloids, The Morning Lark. Clint’s employer ignores straight news at the expense of the sensational, promoting masturbatory fantasies and defending rapists. When not practicing his journalistic trade, Clint worries about his sexual inadequacies and corresponds with Kate, who sends him fan e-mails, assuring him that the size of a penis is irrelevant. Amis builds slowly to Clint’s eventual meeting with his fan.
The other major protagonist does not appear until halfway throughYellow Dog. Joseph Andrews is an eighty-five-year-old, semi-retired London gangster living in Southern California but still controlling events back home. Andrews is an old antagonist of Xan’s criminal father, Mick, and is also the source of Xan’s recent misery, not realizing that the Joseph Andrews mentioned in Xan’s fiction is named for the title character of Henry Fielding’s 1742 novel. Andrews also tries to blackmail King Henry over the princess video.
Amis is commenting on the ways men and women misunderstand each other and the resulting suspicion and confusion. He is also observing the power and corruption of the media. As in much of his fiction, especiallyLondon Fields, Amis is concerned with the decline of Britain into mindless decadence, deploring “the obscenification of everyday life.” He also pokes fun at politically correct views of the sexual battlefield.
Even though they realize they should not, men cannot avoid seeing women as sexual objects. The pre-injury Xan considers himself enlightened for going slightly beyond this view: “If you harbour an admiration for extreme womanly beauty, then feast your eyes on my wife—the mouth, the eyes, the aerodynamic cheekbones (and the light of high intelligence: he was very proud of her intelligence).” He thinks he is “the dream husband” because he shares the responsibilities of parenthood equally with Russia and is “a tender and punctual lover.”
Women are more tenderhearted and more complicated. They enjoy prolonged departures from their loved ones, leaving men to stew in boredom: “Being kept waiting is a...
(The entire section is 1786 words.)