Pay dirt for the underclass

Lionel Asbo (Isabel Fonseca, Random House)

Lionel Asbo (Isabel Fonseca, Random House)

Lionel Asbo: state of England
by Martin Amis (Jonathan Cape)

When Martin Amis bade temporary farewell to his Brooklyn brownstone to give his new novel its London launch, he spent a lot of time explaining to interviewers that Lionel Asbo was not intended as a two-fingered salute to the country he has written about so provocatively for so long.

In fact, he says, he had written most of this tale of a delightedly thuggish criminal who wins a fortune on the lottery before he left Britain, for family reasons, a year or so ago.

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There is actually something rather affectionate in Amis’s portrayal of Lionel, particularly in his tortured diction and the immense effort that he puts into keeping on the wrong side of the law in the grotty, vicious (and fictional) London borough of Diston Town.

Why else would the author reward him with not only a bumper payday, but also the attentions of pneumatic glamour model (and poet) “Threnody”?

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Whatever Amis’s real feelings about Lionel, the critics were predictably divided; they were, however, more inclined to give him a chance than they had been The Pregnant Widow’s toffs cavorting around an Italian castle.

Amis would not be Amis if he did not roam up and down the class scale like a demented pianist, but one suspect he finds it a little easier to have fun with the Lionels of this world. – Guardian books review team ©   

Other literary awards

M-Net Awards
The winners of the M-Net ­Literary Awards, who will each receive R50&nbsp;000, will be named in Johannesburg on October 19. The nominees are:

Homemaking for the Down-at-Heart by Finuala Dowling (Kwela Books), Lost Ground by Michiel Heyns (Jonathan Ball Publishers), The Landscape Painter by Craig Higginson (Picador Africa), Shooting Angels by Christopher Hope (Atlantic Books) and ­Nineveh by Henrietta Rose-Innes (Umuzi).

Piekniek by Hangklip by Kerneels Breytenbach (Human & Rousseau), Sirkusboere by Sonja Loots (Tafelberg), 7 Dae by Deon Meyer (Tafelberg), Net ’n lewe by Fransi Phillips (Lapa ­Uitgewers) and Wals met Matilda by Dan Sleigh (Tafelberg)

African languages
Tshweu ya ditsebe (A Gentleman with White Ears) by Herbert Lentsoane (Maskew Miller Longman), Manong a Lapile (The Vultures Are Hungry) by N Maake (Ekaam Publishers), Murunzi wa Vhutshilo (The Shadow of Life) by Takalani Mbedzi (Bard Publishers) and Liphandlwe Libona (We Learn from Experience) by Siphatheleni Kula (Oxford University Press)

BBC International Short Story Award
Bulgarian author Miroslav Penkov has won the £15 000 BBC International Short Story Award for his story East of the West. South Africa’s Henrietta Rose-Innes was the runner-up, winning £2500 for her story Sanctuary.

Set in Bulgaria during and after the Cold War, East of the West explores the difficulties of love, relationships and identity in a region ridden by conflict and sectarian violence. The narrator takes us from his childhood to the present day, ruminating on the loves and losses that constrain and define his life.

Rose-Innes’s story is a subtle but powerful account of a nostalgic trip back to a childhood haunt in the South African bush. The narrator’s encounter with another family explores domestic violence and its consequences.   

Best bets for the big one

Authors shortlisted for the Man Booker 2012, with their betting odds from The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng (Myrmidon Books; 13-2); Swimming Home by Deborah Levy (And Other Stories/Faber and Faber; 12-1); Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (Fourth Estate; 3-1); The Lighthouse by Alison Moore (Salt; 6-1); Umbrella by Will Self (Bloomsbury; 11-4); and ­Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil (Faber and Faber; 12-1). The winner will be announced on October 16 at London’s Guildhall. Each shortlisted author will receive £2500 and a specially commissioned handbound edition of their book. The winner receives an extra £50 000.

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