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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Yellow Dog

Martin Amis

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Yellow Dog

Title: Yellow Dog
Author: Martin Amis
Genre: Novel
Written: 2003
Length: 340 pages
Availability: Yellow Dog - US
Yellow Dog - UK
Yellow Dog - Canada
Chien Jaune - France
Yellow Dog - Deutschland

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Our Assessment:

C+ : promising beginning and some decent bits, but too many strands going nowhere

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Age . 6/9/2003 James Ley
Daily Telegraph B+ 1/9/2003 Jane Shilling
The Economist D 25/9/2003 .
Entertainment Weekly C- 7/11/2003 Jennifer Reese
FAZ . 18/9/2004 Tobias Döring
Financial Times C 5/9/2003 L.Hunter-Tilney
The Guardian . 6/9/2003 Alan Hollinghurst
The Independent F 6/9/2003 Liz Jensen
Independent on Sunday F 31/8/2003 Matt Thorne
Literary Review . 9/2003 D.J.Taylor
London Rev. of Books . 11/9/2003 Christopher Tayler
The LA Times . 2/11/2003 Adam Begley
Le Monde . 4/1/2007 Raphaëlle Rérolle
The Nation . 8/12/2003 Keith Gessen
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 7/9/2004 Thomas David
New Criterion . 11/2003 Max Watman
New Statesman B 8/9/2003 George Walden
The NY Times F 28/10/2003 Michiko Kakutani
The NY Times Book Rev. . 9/11/2003 Walter Kirn
The Observer A+ 24/8/2003 R. Douglas-Fairhurst
San Francisco Chronicle . 23/11/2003 Ken Foster
The Spectator . 6/9/2003 Philip Hensher
Sunday Telegraph F 31/8/2003 Lewis Jones
Sydney Morning Herald A- 20/9/2003 Anthony Macris
Time . 3/11/2003 Lev Grossman
TLS C- 5/9/2003 Theo Tait
The Village Voice . 9/12/2003 Darren Reidy
The Washington Post . 23/11/2003 James Hynes
Die Zeit . 7/10/2004 Jan Bürger

  Review Consensus:

  No consensus, but the majority think it disappointing (and quite a few think it a complete failure)

  From the Reviews:
  • "There are moments of pure comedy in Yellow Dog, but much of its humour is aimed at generating discomfort as well as laughter. It is grim stuff in many ways, but Yellow Dog is also a tightly constructed novel, bristling with ideas and allusions, and one that takes up many of the themes that have characterised Amis's previous work. Overall it is a novel in which the flaws are frequently eclipsed by moments of brilliance." - James Ley, The Age

  • "At least one of Amis's fellow novelists, impertinently ignoring the press embargo, has called the novel bad in vivid terms. Well, it isn't. Amis is too clever and too adept with language for that. Whatever the literary equivalent of junk-food appeal may be -- fatty, salty, addictive -- he is the master of it. Yellow Dog is readable, amusing and clever, which gives it a head start on the majority of modern novels." - Jane Shilling, Daily Telegraph

  • "Martin Amis's new novel is not only a bad book, but it is a bad book in the most ordinary of terms. Poorly integrated, chaotic, ultimately pointless, and, for a satire, not very funny, Yellow Dog fails in the way that hundreds of published novels fail each year. It isn't even abnormally bad. It isn't special. (...) Yellow Dog isn't a scandal; it's just kind of crummy." - The Economist

  • "A few choice bits of writing adorn this rambling mess, but you have to wade through acres of muck to get to them." - Jennifer Reese, Entertainment Weekly

  • "Yellow Dog isn't too long, but its plot randomly lurches and heaves like a person suffering from seasickness. This would matter less if the satire weren't so feeble. (...) It's a very flawed book, but there are some notable points of interest: signs that Amis is a good enough writer to fascinate even when he's off-form. (...) At its most gripping, Yellow Dog reads like a weird dream or rites of passage myth, in which Xan has to resist a craving to murder father figures, be faithless to his wife and sleep with his children." - Ludovic Hunter-Tilney, Financial Times

  • "Everything Amis writes is highly structured, but Yellow Dog gives signs of quite bristling organisation, in its three parts and its subdivided and subheaded chapters. They create a vague sense of anxious coercion, of asserted significance, of the author insisting on his terms and inventions. (...) (T)here is perhaps a sense, in its second half, of the insistent management being a distraction from the thinness of the content." - Alan Hollinghurst, The Guardian

  • "(H)e has fired off an exquisitely written, 100-carat dud, a piece of work so unfocused, so militantly chaotic, sprawling, and garbled that I had to read it one and a half times in order to fathom what in the name of Crikey was going on. And even now I am not sure. (...) Over-written, overcrowded and underpowered, Yellow Dog is a joyless, boring long-haul flight to nowhere, and a book that leaves you wondering why, if Martin Amis can't be bothered to care about his narrative, or feel any genuine anger about the targets of his satire, then anyone else should." - Liz Jensen, The Independent

  • "Yellow Dog is a strange, sad stew of a novel, so aggressively unpleasant that it would perhaps be best accompanied by an author photograph of Amis flicking Vs at the reader. (...) More interesting to me is trying to understand why a novel that sounded so promising should prove such a dramatic and disturbing misfire. (...) Much of the latter half of the novel reads as if it was cobbled together from the sort of dirty jokes you might find on an internet porn site." - Matt Thorne, Independent on Sunday

  • "All that endures once the lofty superstructures of any specimen chunk of the Amis oeuvre have been prised away is the spectacle of the writer performing, of Mart deedily conning over his luxuriant sentences. Of course he wants to take a righteous swing at the bad lads and the media morons, at the national cult of idiocy and the modern mess, and one doesn't need telling that Nabokov and Bellow, his primal mentors, were moralists at heart, but ... " - D.J.Taylor, Literary Review

  • "So Yellow Dog lurches into action. And, as you might expect, each page is a seething riot of Martin Amis-isms, with many a repetition, many a hyphen, many a 'many a' - and many an ellipsis after many a mini-climax, like an old-school comedian's punchline drum-hit and cymbal-clash ..." - Christopher Tayler, London Review of Books

  • "Dans une langue déroutante et splendide, traversée d'ťclairs de génie et d'obscurités irréductibles, cet écrivain de 57 ans s'affirme, une fois de plus, comme l'un des plus passionnants de sa génération." - Raphaëlle Rérolle, Le Monde

  • "(A) novel of embarrassingly transparent and misplaced moral grandstanding (.....) Yellow Dog is shorter than it appears, because it's written largely in dialogue, arid though the first part of it is readable enough, by the second half Amis has resorted to stealing whole sentences from his journalism, and the novel has fallen apart." - Keith Gessen, The Nation

  • "Yellow Dog ist vor allem deshalb enttäuschend, weil Amis nach längerer literarischer Abstinenz (...) von seinen frühen stilbildenden Büchern offenbar kaum mehr weiss als jeder andere, der sie zu kopieren versucht, und in seinem lange erwarteten Comeback zudem zielsicher an den prägenden Erfahrungen, den reichen Emotionen der eigenen Biografie vorbeischreibt." - Thomas David, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Itís always the first things in Amis. Itís the ordinary gone extraordinary. But thatís all Amis has left, Iím afraid. (...) He was the Brit with his finger on the pulse. He was the novelist who knew the world. Now ? Wow, is that ever gone." - Max Watman, New Criterion

  • "Yet even at its best (and there are virtuoso passages), the novel is a palace of echoes. (...) (A)ll the old Amis riffs are there. Have we been short-changed ? If we wanted to learn something new about ourselves, the answer is yes." - George Walden, New Statesman

  • "It is a novel that takes every theme, narrative technique and preoccupation of the author and turns it inside out, revealing how qualities that have established Mr. Amis as one of the foremost stylists of his generation can easily devolve into self-indulgence and mannerism; how daring choices in subject matter and form can mutate into mere grossness and hollow pretension. (...) Were Mr. Amis's name not emblazoned on this book, it seems unlikely to have found a publisher. It reads not as a satire or dark parable of modern life, not even, really, as a fully fashioned novel, but as a bunch of unsavory outtakes from an abandoned project: nasty bits and pieces best left on the cutting room floor." - Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

  • "Unfortunately, big ideas intrude on what might have been a collage of poisonous cameos sustained by nothing but their own weird energy. As the story plays out, its chaotic impulses are steered irresistibly toward a single point, the way light behaves as it enters a black hole. And this is the point, as trite as one could fear: men are pigs -- and incestuous pigs at that. (...) The problem is Amis's intellectualism, which sticks out like a parson at an orgy and shrinks and shrivels whatever it goes near." - Walter Kirn, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Actually, your first reaction on reading a novel as mind-tinglingly good as Yellow Dog is not so much admiration as a kind of grateful despair. Mostly this is because, like all great writers, he seems to have guessed what you thought about the world, and then expressed it far better than you ever could. (...) Here is a novel to silence the doubters, because here, as he probes a human world increasingly disconnected from itself, Amis has found a subject to match the tessellated polish of his style. Here it all adds up." - Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, The Observer

  • "There's certainly plenty of material here; the problem seems to be in shaping it into something rather than assembling it like a grab bag of drafts on the way to becoming a novel. (...) (Y)ou could argue that Yellow Dog reads best when you pull the book apart and rearrange the sections. But that's a problem, isn't it ? Ultimately, there's something about the whole endeavor that seems passionless and rote, a book written simply because the author can." - Ken Foster, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "If the names are dreadful, the dialogue is worse. (...) For 30 years Martin Amis has been pointing out that pornography is boring, and now, by examining it in close-up from every angle over the course of a full-length novel, he has conclusively demonstrated the truth of that proposition. But more worrying even than the lameness of the characters, dialogue and jokes is that this decorated warrior against cliché seems alarmingly close to embracing it." - Lewis Jones, Sunday Telegraph

  • "(T)he whole novel is, at first blush, one unremitting sleaze fest. (...) Yellow Dog is a fresh, steaming, 340-page serving of Amis at, if not the top of his form, then something close to it. (...) But, even if Amis's pushing of genre boundaries may lead to questionable results, one thing is clear: Yellow Dog contains some of the most stylish contemporary prose around. If, at times, the plot lines muddy, or the campness of story and character go way beyond high, there is always Amis's skill with language to savour." - Anthony Macris, Sydney Morning Herald

  • "There are problems with Yellow Dog, and not small ones. It tries to be structurally clever, but several of its strands either get tangled up with one another or fail to tangle up properly. But through it all, one feels that Amis writes the way he does not to show that he can, but because what he has to say is just too important for prose that is less than painfully acerbic, relentlessly intelligent and pitilessly funny." - Lev Grossman, Time

  • "Yellow Dog: which, if not absolutely terrible, tends to confirm the worst, and withhold the best of him. It reads like the work of a less talented, less funny Martin Amis imitator. (...) Redundancy and embarrassment win, hands down. With a few glorious exceptions, the prose in this novel is just repetitive, self-plagiarizing, fussy and mandarin; a nightmare of pointless periphrasis, fruity pomp and numb tautology." - Theo Tait, Times Literary Supplement

  • "In Yellow Dog, Amis strips the world of its moral patina and fleshes it out in the post-satiric mode of the pornographic, which he expertly adopts, mocks, and transposes into a naked-lunch poetics. It bears the scars of Amis's getting down to business." - Darren Reidy, The Village Voice

  • "(A) dispiriting performance. It has many of the hallmarks of his earlier work -- manic plotting, a fair amount of grotesquerie and violence, aggressively stylish prose -- and that's exactly the problem. The trademark loathing is there on every page, but it feels rote and recycled, as if Amis were merely miming his old anger rather than experiencing it anew. The novel reads like a midlife crisis, a writer's equivalent of buying a sports car and running off with a woman half his age. (...) But apart from a few glancing coincidences (...) each plotline ends rather hastily and unconvincingly, as if Amis simply got bored with them." - James Hynes, The Washington Post

  • "Doch welche Durststrecken muss man in Kauf nehmen, um zu diesem Schluss zu gelangen ! Wie oft lä;uft die virtuose Pointen-Maschine in den elf langen Kapiteln des Romans leer ! (...) Zu stark ähnelt Amisí sexbesessene Welt der gelben Hunde den Spätprogrammen privater Fernsehsender." - Jan Bürger, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Yellow Dog has no less than four major narrative strands, told first in separate chapters and then tending to some overlap.
       The primary strand is the story of Xan Meo. He is divorced from Pearl, with whom he has two sons, and now married to Russia, with whom he has two daughters. The novel opens with him going to a pub and getting attacked there. A head injury he suffers makes a different man out of him.
       A second strand involves the King of England. It's not the familiar Windsors Amis describes here, as he invents a fictitious line of succession going back a few generations. The current monarch is Henry IX. His wife is brain-dead, kept alive by machines, but his real problem is fifteen year-old Princess Victoria, who has been captured in all her natural glory on video tape.
       Another strand involves Clint Smoker, who works at the Morning Lark, a tabloid with no female readership (and where the male readers are, appropriately enough, referred to as "wankers").
       Finally, there's the story of CigAir Flight 101, London-Houston. A coffin in the hold eventually comes loose and causes considerable problems. This part of the novel perhaps suggests yet another form of male revenge on women (the dead husband teaching his wife sitting in the airplane one last lesson) or proof that even when dead men can wreak havoc, but it has essentially nothing to do with the rest of the novel. The airplane-story chapters make for a change of pace from the rest of the book (and there is the (semi-)tantalizing question of will-they-or-won't-they crash), but it is more of a distraction than an enhancement of the novel.
       Yellow Dog is packed with story and ideas, in any case. A major focus is on pornography, in all its variations, glories, and ignominies. Pornography touches (or dirties and cheapens) all the storylines, except the airborne one. It is not a pleasant thing, but -- so Amis -- inescapable.
       Marriage is not much of a success in Yellow Dog. Neither is sex (except perhaps for Xan's four year-old daughter, Billie, who innocently (or perhaps not so innocently) likes to do what they refer to as her 'exercises', publicly pleasuring herself). Right off twice-married Xan is described as:

on his way to realising that, after a while, marriage is a sibling relationship -- marked by occasional, and rather regrettable, episodes of incest.
       The King is only technically still married, and doesn't have much of a satisfactory sex-life (and neither does, for example, his unfortunately nicknamed equerry, Bugger). The Princess may be coming of age, but that also only brings trouble with it. Clint Smoker is, of course, single, the kind of guy who tries every possible sort of organ-enhancer (and writes for an audience of wankers).
       There's also a long, hard look at the pornography industry, and it is not a pleasant sight either. No, sex (and marriage) are a mess in Amis' world -- a bleakness that might be effectively portrayed in the novel, if he weren't trying to do so much else as well.
       Xan's head-blow sets much of the action in motion. The reasons why he got the beating are only eventually explained (amusingly enough, in a Henry Fielding sort of way, but it's too laboured of a joke over the length of the novel), but his family have to put up with the consequences from the get-go. Infant daughter Sophie instinctively knows there's something very wrong (in one of the too-frequent dreadful bits of writing in the novel Amis describes her high-pitched screaming reaction: "She saw his face -- and all the dogs of London must have snapped to attention"). Billie too: "Daddy's different now", she diagnoses, before anyone else.
       Daddy is different, and wife Russia eventually writes him:
Please change back. Oh please, please. Please become again the big, calm, slow-moving, encouraging, approving, protective, affectionate man you were before.
       Readers pretty much only see the new Xan -- who later describes what happened to him as having "shorn me of certain values -- the values of civilisation, more or less". But his Jekyll and Hyde act isn't fully convincing, civilisation's hold on him -- despite some desperate and outrageous acts -- surprisingly (or disappointingly ?) strong; the book might at least have been more entertaining if he actually did release his inner Neanderthal.
       One consequence of the head trauma is that Xan's sexual urges become more primal. He watches pornography now. And, among other things, he takes a greater, unhealthy interest in his four year-old daughter. And there's the observation someone disconcertingly puts in his head:
You know, if you want to sexualise your relationship with your daughter, she'd go along with it. What else can she do ? She can't do otherwise. When it comes to Daddies, little girls are certainties.
       (Xan's first wife tells someone that Billie is Xan's "four-year-old and a sexy little minx according to the boys", yet another of the awkwardly unreal touches in the book: what youth would describe (or see) his pre-school-age half-sister as in any way 'sexy' ?)
       Yellow Dog is also full of violence. It's a matter of course for several of the characters. Amis seems to enjoy it -- describing a brutal, ugly world -- but these actions and descriptions seem almost literally careless, done to little end. (Yes, there's a sense of antiquated codes of honour that must be upheld, perverted machismo, the romance of the English underworld ... but Amis doesn't use or present these very well here.)
       Males are ill-equipped in this new world: they're a truly sorry lot. The woman fare somewhat better, but Amis isn't much interested in their lives or success, and doesn't know how to describe it, preferring to wallow in male failure (in all its variations).
       Yes, there's a lot about fame and public lives and privacy in the book too, but, again, Amis, doesn't come comfortably to grips with that. (It's also a book filled with bodily functions described with coprophilic ardour, and many of the fame-related scenes seem merely to have been vomited forth.)
       There's some fine writing in Yellow Dog, some good scenes and ideas. But it's a loose, unwieldy heap of a novel, trying (one assumes) to do too much and accomplishing astonishingly little. It begins promisingly enough, the separate threads initially of interest, but then loses itself in messy digression and aimless thrusts and parries and disappoints in its conclusions. There are pieces and beginnings of interest, but it ultimately does not amount to much of a novel

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Yellow Dog: Reviews: Martin Amis: Other books by Martin Amis under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction at the complete review

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About the Author:

       British author Martin Amis lived 1949 to 2023.

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© 2004-2023 the complete review

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