The Pregnant Widow
If you enjoy vain, idle, narcissistic characters similar to those in The Great Gatsby, then pick up Martin Amis’s The Pregnant Widow and put yourself inside the head of Keith Nearing and his fellow self-absorbed pack of so-called sexual revolutionaries in an Italian castle in 1970. Alternating between this summer in Italy (when he was young) and his present life (in his fifties) in London (with four children), Keith continually masturbates his mental and emotional muscles over the failed possibilities and dramatic changes he believes permanently ruined his life.
Though it is cloaked in intellectual curiosity, witty dialogue, metaphorical and literary references, the story is primarily a solicitous tale of solicitousness that would be apropos for any young man or women who is intent on the possibility and mystery of holding on to a contrived image of joy and personal sexual satisfaction without emotional entanglement or consequences. The characters are so wrapped up in themselves and their judgments of others that it is difficult to connect or care about what happens to them.
There is also a thread of pessimism and perception that all of the characters lives are doomed and fractured from the moment one is born. The following assumption, stated by Keith, sums up that sentiment when he states, “Rule number two: sooner or later, each human life is a tragedy, sometimes sooner, always later.”
The meat of the story consists of Keith’s obsession with and desire to sleep with Sheherazade, while he is simultaneously in a relationship with Lily. The supporting cast of characters includes Gloria (older and perhaps wiser), Adriano (a rich romantic daredevil), Whittaker and Kenrik (friends and confidents), and Conchita (another visitor to the castle in 1970). There is preferential treatment given to women’s liberation and personal freedom, but neither gender in the story really changes from the predominant tradition and culture of the times, even though they like to think they do.
Whether Keith’s obsession with Sheherazade is ever fulfilled or reciprocated is best left for the purveyor of this edition to discover upon their own reading, if they are drawn to this flavor of literary tea. There is no better summation of The Pregnant Widow than the author’s description from the summer of 1970 of their group’s “unspoken revolutionary manifesto” which says, “Surface will start tending to supersede essence.”