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A highly-skilled book reviewer, Amis is probably number one in the English language. He can penetrate prose with a delicacy and flair that hardly anyone else can achieve. His sensitivity to language and his command of it make him almost unique. What does he choose to do with this weapon of mass enlightenment ?

Perhaps inspired by that standout Rolling Stones song from 1973, “Starfucker”, Amis has waged a 40-year-long campaign to ingratiate himself with the American  behemoths, to hang out in the VIP bar of Yankee power. If you examine The Moronic Inferno, his collection from 1986, you’ll find appreciations of Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, John Updike. And here in The Rub of Time, behold, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, John Updike. It’s true that The Rub of Time lacks Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, Norman Mailer and Kurt Vonnegut, but you do get Don Delillo. And Nabokov. And the gang’s all there in The War Against Cliché. Plus Nabokov.

It’s noticeable how in Amis’s output of criticism there is scant celebration of the debut novelist (either British or American). There is no exhumation of some intriguing figure from the 1920s, scandalously forgotten by the public or critics. And when it comes to foreign fiction, whom does Amis invoke? The very usual suspects. Kafka. Dostoevsky, Tolstoy. And, bien sûr, Nabokov. What daring, off-piste, Penguin Classics reading. But then since Amis is monolingual his horizons are somewhat limited.

Amis has devoted his energy to stroking the ankles of American giants. He has spent his sentience on slebs. If you can’t do something for Marty, Marty ain’t doing nothing for you. To be fair, The Rub of Time does record the names of Will Self and Lawrence Norfolk, novelists of a younger generation, on whom Amis offers the magnanimous verdict, “They aren’t scum.”

After multiple multi-city tours of the US and serial hailing of its magnates, Amis has failed to conquer the American market, the only one he deeply cares about. Zadie Smith presides there as the British plenipotentiary, while Martin is camped out in Brooklyn in a final, forlorn attempt to get America to notice him.

This volume is for the occasional PhD student, who will flick through, cursing at another slice of Nabokoviana and more Bellowing.

Dead horse, the flogging of. Bottom of the barrel, scraping of. The fooling of some of the people, some of the time. These are the clichés I’m warring against, but I fear I’m losing.

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