To this tantalizing nonfiction collection Martin Amis brings the same megawatt wit, wickedly acute perception, and ebullient wordplay that characterize his novels. He encompasses the full range of contemporary politics and culture (high and low) while also traveling to China for soccer with Elton John and to London's darts-crazy pubs in search of the perfect throw. Throughout, he offers razor-sharp takes on such subjects as:
American politics: "If history is a nightmare from which we are trying to awake, then the Reagan era can be seen as an eight-year blackout. Numb, pale, unhealthily dreamless: eight years of Do Not Disturb."
Chess: "Nowhere in sport, perhaps in human activity, is the gap between the tryer and the expert so astronomical.... My chances of a chess brilliancy are the 'chances' of a lab chimp and a type writer producing King Lear."
This is occasional journalism at its most occasional, ranging from obituaries (Philip Larkin) to book reviews (V. S. Naipaul), meditations on an evening of poker with old buddies (A. Alvarez and Anthony Holden among them) and the Frankfurt Book Fair (Amis hated it). Is the average American likely to be interested in the high jinks of an unknown British football club on tour in China, or why no one takes the game of darts seriously enough? We aren't even told when the events Amis ( Time's Arrow ) covers took place. One can deduce from internal evidence that some of these short pieces (most of them are reprinted from the London Observer ) were written as long ago as 1975 or as recently as the ultimate non-piece in this collection: an interview with Madonna that wasn't granted. The book will leave readers frustrated because Amis is such a good writer and there are memorable moments: a tender visit with Vera Nabokov at the Montreux Palace Hotel in Switzerland; an affecting portrait of J. G. Ballard, the brillant and eccentric author of Empire of the Sun ; and an almost shocking depiction of the international chess scene. But there are not enough of these moments to justify this ragged collection.