Beware of book blurbs

The Washington Post did not review Martin Amis' latest novel favorably, but the book blurb suggests otherwise

Published May 20, 2013 8:41PM (EDT)

  (<a href=''>Falconia</a> via <a href=''>Shutterstock</a>)
(Falconia via Shutterstock)

As book blurb whore/not whore Gary Shteyngart will tell you, writing book blurbs is an artform -- but it's also a bit of a farce.

As Washington Post fiction editor Ron Charles points out, the book blurb from the Washington Post on the front of Martin Amis' "Lionel Asbo" (which Charles did not review favorably) is so disingenuous, it borders on lying:

Amis is one of the finest stylists alive, but I thought “Lionel Asbo” was a bad novel. A really bad novel. In fact, my review of “Lionel Asbo” was a finalist for the Hatchet Job — a prize given for the most negative book review of the year. And yet, on the new paperback — on the front cover, no less — appears this ringing endorsement from The Washington Post: “Amis is a force unto himself ... There is, quite simply, no one else like him.”

All true. But caveat emptor. That line is drawn from a review of “London Fields” that my colleague Jonathan Yardley wrote ... 23 years ago.

What does the Post really think of "Lionel Asbo"? Charles wrote that the social satire lacked "initiative, even effort":

He’s ambling years behind The Situation and the Kardashians, serving up blanched stereotypes on the silver platter of his prose as though it contained enough spice to entertain or even shock. “You go numb,” Lionel tells his nephew. “Not happy. Not sad. Numb.” Halfway through, persistent readers will feel the same way.

In other words, beware of book blurbs. (Unless they are written by Gary Shteyngart).

By Prachi Gupta

Prachi Gupta is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on pop culture. Follow her on Twitter at @prachigu or email her at

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Book Blurbs Books Hatchet Job Of The Year Awards Literature Martin Amis