When 'dream husband' Xan Meo is vengefully assaulted in the garden of a London pub, he suffers head-injury, and personality-change. Like a spiritual convert, the familial paragon becomes an anti-husband, an anti-father. He submits to an alien moral system - one among many to be found in these pages.
We are introduced to the inverted worlds of the 'yellow' journalist, Clint Smoker; the high priest of hardmen, Joseph Andrews; the porno tycoon, Cora Susan; and Royce Traynor, the corpse in the hold of the stricken airliner, apparently determined, even in death, to bring down the plane that carries his spouse. Meanwhile, we explore the entanglements of Henry England: his incapacitated wife, Pamela; his Chinese mistress, He Zizhen; his fifteen-year-old daughter, Victoria, the victim of a filmed 'intrusion' which rivets the world - because she is the future Queen of England, and her father, Henry IX, is its King.
In this much-anticipated 10th novel which has already fomented a furor in Britain the prose is brilliant and often hilarious, and the insights into contemporary culture are disturbingly prescient. But the book's many successes cannot hide its fundamental flaw: an overly complex and needlessly opaque narrative structure. The wildly plotted novel begins when modern "Renaissance man" (actor/writer) Xan Meo is viciously assaulted; his head injury changes this "dream husband" into an oversexed, sadistic lout, ultimately forcing his wife to cast him out. But the attack isn't an act of random violence. As one of his assailants, Mal, cryptically puts it, "You went and named him... J-o-s-e-p-h A-n-d-r-e-w-s." From this enigmatic opening, Amis weaves a complex tapestry of narrative threads: Xan Meo is trying to recover his lost personality and his family's loving embrace; teenage Princess Victoria a future queen of England is being blackmailed with a video of her in the bath; tabloid journalist Clint Smoker emasculated by a laughably small penis extracts his revenge by being relentlessly misogynistic in print. Meanwhile, the recidivist, violent criminal Joseph Andrews now a pornography impresario in Los Angeles is plotting a way to return to England to die. Making these intersecting narratives cohere would be a challenge for any writer, but Amis reaches even further with a backdrop of apocalyptic violence (a transatlantic flight that's doomed to crash, a meteor that might hit the planet). That background clouds his core themes, which are more than dramatic enough to be compelling: violence and its intimate connections to sex and gender, the "obscenification" of everyday life and the 21st-century preoccupation with fame. (A typical Amis aper u: "Fame had so democratised itself that obscurity was felt as a deprivation or even a punishment.") Thanks to Amis's pitch-perfect dialogue, his I-can't-believe-he-wrote-that humor and his perceptive critique of contemporary morals, this is still a novel of many pleasures and still a novel to be reckoned with.