Sunday, December 03, 2006

Will Self

Review of Will Self's The Book of Dave right here.

Self's stuff has always given off a distinctly anxious smell for me. As black as his humour gets, you always get the sense that at least some of the blackness is rooted in an urge to impress, that it isn't so much a natural product of Self's misanthropic worldview as a bid to outdo someone like Martin Amis. He often comes off like Toshiro Mifune's character in the first half of Seven Samurai, leaping and strutting around on the page to show he is better and bleaker and wordier and funnier and more Nabokovian and Ballardian than Amis and all the rest of his ilk, even though he lacks their pedigree. I once watched Self interview Mike Leigh, and you could almost see the sweat coming off him as he tried not to lose his cool before someone he clearly idolized.

Which is all to say I was surprised to see Self very nearly pull off what he was going for in this new novel. The book doesn't ever really fall apart so much as simply outstay its welcome and become a little too enamoured of its own conceit. While it's working, however, it gets a good hum going and draws you in. It's 600 pages long, but really doesn't feel like it.

(Self's book also gets a mention in Philip Marchand's column on apocalyptic books here.)

1 comment:

Steven W. Beattie said...

I think you've nailed what has always irked me about Self's writing. It always seems like a pose to me. He's trying to hard, and the result (see My Idea of Fun, which isn't) is frequently just dull.

Having said that, I may have to pick up The Book of Dave. Any novel that bases a religion on the Knowledge of London cabbies can't be all bad.