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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Pregnant Widow

Martin Amis

[an overview of the reviews and critical reactions]

general information | review summaries | links | about the author

To purchase The Pregnant Widow

Title: The Pregnant Widow
Author: Martin Amis
Genre: Novel
Written: 2010
Length: 470 pages
Availability: The Pregnant Widow - US
The Pregnant Widow - UK
The Pregnant Widow - Canada
  • Inside History

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Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Age . 30/1/2010 .
The Economist A 4/2/2010 .
Financial Times A 8/2/2010 Justin Cartwright
The Guardian . 6/2/2010 Christopher Tayler
The Independent . 12/2/2010 Boyd Tonkin
Independent on Sunday C- 7/2/2010 Doug Johnstone
New Statesman . 28/1/2010 Leo Robson
New York . 7/5/2010 Sam Anderson
The NY Rev. of Books . 24/6/2010 Edmund White
The NY Times D 11/5/2010 Michiko Kakutani
The NY Times Book Rev. . 23/5/2010 Graydon Carter
The New Yorker . 14/6/2010 .
The Observer . 31/1/2010 Tim Adams
Prospect . 2/2010 Tom Chatfield
San Francisco Chronicle . 16/5/2010 Jacob Molyneux
The Scotsman . 6/2/2010 David Sexton
The Spectator . 3/2/2010 Richard Bradford
Sunday Times . 31/1/2010 Peter Kemp
Sydney Morning Herald B- 3/2/2010 Andrew Riemer
The Telegraph A 5/2/2010 Philip Hensher
The Telegraph . 7/2/2010 Harry Mount
The Times . 6/2/2010 Aravind Adiga
TLS . 3/2/2010 Bharat Tandon
The Washington Post . 12/5/2010 Ron Charles

  Review Consensus:

  Mixed, with lots of mentions of how autobiographical it is

  From the Reviews:
  • "When Amis shows us the sexual revolution in action and reaction, when he tells us how people dressed and what it meant, when he depicts the effects of women's sexual aggression on men's egos, how women talked about men and vice versa -- when he is pretending to be a well-behaved comic-naturalist novelist, the book works. But when he philosophises he can sound just like tedious-clever journalism" - The Age

  • "This is a fine and hilarious book, Martin Amisís best since Money. From the very first sentence it is inimitably Amis (.....) The Pregnant Widow is Amis at his absolute and unique best." - The Economist

  • "The Pregnant Widow is richly comic -- cruelly comic -- as you would expect from Amis and shot through with serious themes, most particularly the tragi-comedy of ageing. (...) This is Amisís finest novel for a long time. It is close to a masterpiece, only undermined for me by frequent over-striving, which produces some false images and enervating repetitions; unlike his hero Saul Bellow, Amis is unfamiliar with restraint. But read it: it is hilarious, often wonderfully perceptive, uncompromisingly ambitious and written by a great master of the English language." - Justin Cartwright, Financial Times

  • "As all this slowly happens, there's a growing sense that the reader is being asked to do too many things at once: to chuckle at the consciously puerile gags and over-literary running jokes, to nod along with the bulletins on ageing and baby-boomer sexual attitudes, and to attend solemnly to the busy surface of Amis's later style. Unless you're Christopher Hitchens, it's not easy to sustain the correct mood for doing all three simultaneously, and it doesn't help that Amis has expanded his repertoire of eccentric mannerisms." - Christopher Tayler, The Guardian

  • "The Pregnant Widow has already secured such a firm niche as a contentious novel of ideas that we can lose sight of the way it frames two panels of an individual life. A mature narrator looks back on the battlefield of desire in anguish, if not in anger. Trust the tale, not the teller, DH Lawrence said." - Boyd Tonkin, The Independent

  • "Nothing happening wouldn't be a problem, of course, if Amis threw the reader a bone or two, but the writing here is strangely dead on the page. Part of the problem is that The Pregnant Widow reads as if its author couldn't make up his mind what kind of book it should be. There is an aura of memoir about it (.....) (T)he vast majority of The Pregnant Widow is a self-obsessed irrelevance, leaving the reader with a monumental feeling of "so what?" " - Doug Johnstone, Independent on Sunday

  • "With the exception of one mishandled flirtation, The Pregnant Widow is a novel of uncancelled sex that takes place during a period of cultural shift, when girls started to sunbathe topless and treat boys as sex objects, or so Amis says. But the novel isn't all shagging. There is a lot of reading here, too, from both the protagonist and his creator. (...) The novel is narrated in a 2009 voice that prefers telling to showing. There are hints of those personalities we associate with Amis as an interviewee -- the strident universaliser who refuses to accept the peculiarity of his own experience and perspective, the patronising generaliser who talks as if he is the only person who has ever given any thought to religion and literature and sex and death." - Leo Robson, New Statesman

  • "The nearly perfect portion of The Pregnant Widow -- roughly the bookís opening 300 pages -- is a sexual comedy of manners (.....) Itís all tight and poppy -- the kind of writing Iím tempted to quote all day long. (...) Unfortunately, however, Amis isnít content with his near-perfect comic novel. He keeps writing. When the Italian summer ends, The Pregnant Widow continues. Freed from the dramatic unity of the sex capers, things get ponderous in a hurry." - Sam Anderson, New York

  • "This is a book that is highly conscious of being a book. (...) Martin Amis is very funny and accurate about aging. (...) Keith Nearing is more lad than bad in The Pregnant Widow -- and by the end of the book he has clearly matured, if that means to have grown bleak with insight and depressing wisdom. Amisís readers will be delighted by this return to form -- that is, a new depth brought to familiar themes. And no one can deny the superb writing throughout, the attention to detail and to language lavished on every sentence." - Edmund White, The New York Review of Books

  • "This remarkably tedious new novel by Martin Amis is a sort of messy improvisation on Boccaccioís 14th-century collection of tales known as The Decameron (.....) Though the plot of Widow picks up in the second half of the novel, as Keith embarks on a stratagem to drug Lily so that he can sleep with Scheherazade, this shred of a story line isnít enough to sustain interest or to support the heavy garlands of pontification that Mr. Amis insists on draping over everything." - Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

  • "The fizzy, smart linguistic fireworks, with their signature italicisms, riffs on the language and stunningly clever, off-center metaphors are certainly evident in The Pregnant Widow. But this may not be the Roman candle of a novel some of his followers are looking for." - Graydon Carter, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Amisís twelfth novel is a despairing, sex-obsessed pileup of ideas." - The New Yorker

  • "The result is a flashy Decameron of the sexual revolution; 20-year-old Keith may want to believe that his present moment -- the Pill, female emancipation in the bedroom -- has been plotted just for him, but a part of him can't help fearing he is on the wrong side of the barricades (.....) For the most part Amis stays within the limits of this comedy of manners; when he is finally tempted to stray beyond it in the latter third of the book, with the introduction of the girl Keith eventually does get, and regret, his substitute Sheherazade, Gloria Beautyman, the plotting creaks just slightly." - Tim Adams, The Observer

  • "The Pregnant Widow is above all a comedy of manners. And, like all the best comedies, its intentions are deadly serious. There is, throughout, a restless commitment to discovering what can meaningfully be said today about certain human fundamentalsólove, death, sex, and the illusions that cluster around these." - Tom Chatfield, Prospect

  • "Unfortunately, Amis can't resist embellishing his traditional morality tale with a number of distracting pet obsessions and unconvincing metafictional smoke screens. The end result is an often frustrating hybrid of fiction and tipsy, maudlin pontification." - Jacob Molyneux, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "This novel is once again a most peculiar combination of broad farce and portentous significance. Amis's true vein remains low comedy delivered in a highly disdainful mock-heroic style and there's plenty of that here. (...) It comes across more as a 470-page interview with Martin Amis. Oddly endearing to read. But as fiction, it's a farce." - David Sexton, The Scotsman

  • "(F)or anyone even remotely apprised of his life, the parallels between fact and fiction are glaring and abundant. (...) For the first time in his career as a writer he treats all of his creations with a combination of respect, altruism and kindness. We forget that they are inventions, and wonder about the causes of their variously endearing, troubled, despondent states. Perhaps, then, we can detect a rationale for his otherwise gratuitous display of autobiographical links. (...) Despite the absence of anything resembling a plot, it is an addictive read." - Richard Bradford, The Spectator

  • "Structurally, the book is ramshackle. Amis encrusts the meandering storyline of his novel about changing sexual attitudes with portentous allusions to tales of metamorphosis, especially the myth of Narcissus." - Peter Kemp, Sunday Times

  • "Some readers will enjoy, I think, this mixture of a foul-mouthed version of Love in a Cold Climate and La Dolce Vita. For me, at this end of the world and light years removed from the preoccupations of the London literati and glitterati, The Pregnant Widow proved often diverting but frequently irritating and tiresome. It's not a bad book but it's not particularly good. The structure is haphazard, leaving several strands (among them the threat of Islamic extremism) dangling in mid-air. Amis's "erudite" machinery -- the myth of Narcissus, the etymology of a large number of words, echoes of Ariel's song in The Tempest -- is cumbersome." - Andrew Riemer, Sydney Morning Herald

  • "The cavalcade of walk-on parts is beautifully done, offering a constant supply of thoughtful hilarity. (...) Moving and humane, The Pregnant Widow also captivates by the accustomed wit and elegance of its style. Amis just writes so well and so freshly. (...) I love this novel and it warmed when I read it a second time. It is beautifully achieved, cunningly relaxed, and reveals considerable emotional depth in its last pages. It is not quite perfect and doesnít want to be" - Philip Hensher, The Telegraph

  • "Other real-life pals crop up: the writer Christopher Hitchens, and the poet Ian Hamilton, have walk-on parts, but this one is really about Martin and the girls." - Harry Mount, The Telegraph

  • "The brilliant, brazen writer of The Rachel Papers has been groping for years for voice, rhythm, subject. Declining strength has been matched by rising self-esteem: in a pompous afterword to The Pregnant Widow he high-fives old mates such as Auden and Will Shakespeare, just as at the end of House of Meetings, an interesting minor novel, he salaams Conrad and Dostoevsky. This is silly stuff, and only because Amis really could be one of the greats. (...) Yet he is beginning to write with Old Master assurance on the important subjects. Perhaps you have to be a narcissist on the scale of a Roth or an Amis to interpret a mundane fact -- I am going to die some day -- as an archetypal confrontation" - Aravind Adiga, The Times

  • "Past and present, 1970 and 2009, are repeatedly measured against one another, in order to answer the unspoken question that runs throughout Amisís narrative: just how did we get here from there? Unfortunately, there are points in The Pregnant Widow where the sound of the question threatens to drown out the conversations around it. (...) (A)lthough much of The Pregnant Widow feels -- like the period it describes Ė pitched uncomfortably between two stools and styles, it also shows Amis growing into a new mode, as a chronicler of loss and uncomfortable metamorphosis. If his next novels continue in this vein, then this bookís own awkward transition will have been worthwhile." - Bharat Tandon, Times Literary Supplement

  • "The setting is exotic, the subject is erotic, but the story is necrotic. For more than 300 pages of ironic dithering about who will have sex with whom, the climax is endlessly delayed like a painful case of literary priapism. (...) (O)verlong, frequently hilarious but deeply aggravating" - Ron Charles, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The Pregnant Widow: Reviews: Martin Amis: Other books by Martin Amis under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction at the complete review

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About the Author:

       British author Martin Amis lived 1949 to 2023.

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© 2010-2023 the complete review

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