Around the linear narrative of Lionel's unswervingness Amis braids a contrasting story. Where Lionel is determined not to learn, his nephew Des has an eagerness to learn — an eagerness he shares with Dawn, a girl he meets when being interviewed for university. Implicit here is an anti-nurture argument. Des shares exactly the same environment (indeed, even the same flat) as Lionel. But notwithstanding their surroundings Des and Dawn are able to find genuine, solid contentment. They marry, and have a delightful baby, Cilla. One senses the novelist quarrelling with the most notorious axiom of his godfather. Philip Larkin is drawn into the world of Lionel Asbo when Marlon Welkway and Gina Drago decide to have "a Whitsun wedding". But Amis's diptych of Lionel and Des whispers the un-Larkinian possibilities that they need not fuck you up, your Mum and Dad; and, furthermore, that man need not hand on misery to man. This is a rebuttal of that bien-pensant extenuation of the "state of England" which attributes all our discontents to environment. As Lionel shows, the Robinson Crusoes of our recidivist class create their own environment, and what is more tirelessly recreate it wherever they go.
The formal architecture of Lionel Asbo recalls Amis's earlier novel about the disparate trajectories followed by a pair of central characters, Success. Other characters and themes from the back-catalogue make cameo appearances: for instance, Lionel's laughable girlfriend, Threnody, is a close relative of Money's Vron. These recursive moments touch on the real interest of Lionel Asbo, which is nothing to do with its analysis of the "state of England", but rather its hints about a particular kind of writerly malaise. Writers can be blocked by not being able to write at all, or (more cruelly) by not being able to write the kind of book they would like to write. Amis is an author trapped in a style in which it is impossible to say the things he now wishes to say. Laudably committed to the humane values and common happiness of Des and Dawn, Amis is unable to write about them in a way that sustains our interest. Our aspirational author is both Des and Lionel: eager to break through and do better, but also addicted to what holds him back.