Review

Yellow Dog

by Martin Amis



If you're feeling guilty these days about being a crass American,
reading YELLOW DOG could be just the ticket. Martin Amis's version
of England is at least as violent and crude as our own besieged
Homeland. With trademark disdain and farce, Amis takes on
pornography, male violence, incest and even a fictionalized Royal
Family.

There are four distinct plots here. The most compelling concerns
Xan Meo, a Renaissance Man in his late forties. At the beginning of
the book he is a successful actor and writer, happily married to
Russia, the mother of his two little girls. Each year on the
anniversary of his divorce from his first wife Pearl, Xan allows
himself two drinks and four cigarettes in a London bar called
Hollywood. This year, malevolence awaits him in the courtyard. Two
thugs assault him before he even gets to finish one of his
Dickheads (the name of his chosen cocktail). The traumatic head
injury seems to push civilization right out of Xan. Soon his wife
and daughters fear him.

A second narrative strand involves an enormous and insecure
journalist named Clint Smoker. His scurrilous invectives against
women run in a tabloid whose readers even the editor refers to as
wankers. When news is leaked about possible videotape of beloved
Princess Victoria in her bath, Smoker is hot on the trail. The same
news naturally only worsens King Henry IX's stress eczema, which he
has in an "optimally inconvenient site … It was already clear
to Henry that, generally speaking, the arse was a disaster waiting
to happen." And so our third plot revolves around the King and his
daughter and their general lack of enchantment with the roles
they've been born into.

The fourth family revealed may be the most dysfunctional yet, and
that's saying something in this book. But this family ultimately
ties back in to Xan's injury, and Xan, thankfully, does experience
a kind of moral renewal. In a letter to Russia he says, "Men were
in power for five million years. Now (where we live) they share it
with women. That past has a weight, though we behave as if it
doesn't … We will argue about this, I hope, and you will win
and I won't mind. No, strike that out. You will win, and I will
mind, but I'll probably pretend not to."

As usual there is much to admire in Amis's inventive, caustic
prose. However, naming characters "He" (the King's mistress) and
"And" strikes this reviewer as a little on the cheap side. While
the novel is darkly entertaining, one waits in vain for insights
worthy of the slog through the sewage. The errant subplot about a
doomed airplane and the angry dead man in the hold (only Amis could
convincingly write about an angry dead man) does nothing to clarify
this brilliant muddle of a novel.

Reviewed by Eileen Zimmerman-Nicol on January 24, 2011

Yellow Dog
by Martin Amis

  • Publication Date: November 5, 2003
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Miramax
  • ISBN-10: 1401352030
  • ISBN-13: 9781401352035