It’s Will Self’s birthday! And unlike the other writers whose birthdays we celebrate on here, he’s alive to enjoy it.
In the books about writing, we are often told to use lots of paragraphs, as a thick block of text is unappealing to the reader. We are also told that we shouldn’t write in any kind of accent, as the syntax of the dialect will let the reader know where the person is from. We are also told to use italics sparsely as they are patronising and tire the reader.
To these, Will Self appears to have thought nope, nope, and nope. ‘Umbrella’ and ‘Shark’ both present pages that at first glance appear to be word vomit, but when actually read, are not only clear, but alarmingly, uncomfortably, grotesquely, so. The lack of traditional structure, rather than making the reading hard work, make it like osmosis, I forget I am reading. After reading these two novels, other writing seems to be loud, if that makes sense. I felt I was very obviously reading, my inner ear was aware of all the words, rather than just transferring straight from eye to inner eye, they went through my mind, first. I presume that’s what Finnegans Wake will be like when I devote the time and braincells to reading, and trying to understand it.
‘Umbrella’ is the first of the trilogy about psychiatrist Zack Busner, where he wakes up a patient who has been comatose for many years by using LSD. ‘Shark’ is the second book but a prequel, and is what happens when the patients (and staff) in a psychiatric residential unit spend a day tripping, as we get to travel between their heads. My only problem with that was I liked some characters more than others, and kept wanting to get back to Genie or Kins, but that’s normal with the majority of multiple POV books (hello, Game of Thrones).
Self describes everything in such lucid detail, from inserting tampons (research?!) to eating Malteasers, I would occasionally get lost in imagery, such as Kins’ wife cleaning her dentures then wobbling her way to bed with her hand clamped over her mouth. In sheltered housing I can respond to a personal alarm and find a woman has slipped on the bathroom floor, and has broken hip and blood coming from her head, but if her teeth aren’t in, she’ll tell me this from behind her hand.
‘Umbrella’ was short listed for the Booker, and ‘Shark’ wasn’t. Although like others, I think it will be like ‘The Return Of The King’ which pretty much won all the Oscars, and so the third book in the trilogy will be the one to clean up. Will Self will be like Peter Jackson, but taller, skinner, and with less elf ear-wearing fans. And very likely, a lot less money.