Are old men really judging the value of their entire life on how many women they’ve laid? According to the narrator of Martin Amis’s latest novel, The Pregnant Widow, they are. (We don’t find out until near the end of the novel who this narrator is, and when I did, I didn’t believe it. If he were who he says he were would he still be boobs-obsessed, or is that authorial wistfulness creeping in?…) The Pregnant Widow feels like one of those old, politically incorrect British Carry On movies in which horny young blokes lusted after blondes with big boobs who were, in turn, giving their favors to short men, and meanwhile that rather prim-looking, big-arsed, tweed-skirted plain girl turns out to be right go-er (nudge, nudge, wink, wink, does she go, your wife, does she go….). Fitting, it is the seventies after all – and Amis has a lot of fun ridiculing the beginning of the Me generation. Here are newly liberated women who don’t quite know what to do with their sexual freedom, and who will forget, as the years pass, to have children. Amis’s characters seem to have endured the Banville school of meaningful naming: Gloria with her glorious beee-hind, randy-Rita who ruts her way across Europe, Scheherazade, the beauty “with the inseparable sisters who were her breasts” who holds our horny hero, Keith Nearing at bay, night after night after night – poor Keith, endless nearing his moment of sexual nirvana without quite getting there.
The book is 372 pages long and it’s page 230 before Keith commits his fatal blunder with Scheherazade (by which point the reader’s screaming “oh, just bonk her already!”) “She doesn’t look religious,” Keith reflects then, and for years after, about his life-altering ‘sexual trauma.’ “Her tits don’t look religious…” I couldn’t help feeling that Muriel Spark could have pulled this whole romp off in 100 pages or so, and it would have been smarter, tighter, funnier… Amis felt too much empathy for his hero to sacrifice him on the altar of comedy.