“It’s strange knowing more about a writer than you do about what he has written – stranger still to know more about at least a couple of the books he has published than a cursory reading of them might afford. This second statement needs to be qualified: in asserting that it’s possible to know more of a book by reading about it than by actually reading it, it may seem that I’m trespassing into that odd area of enquiry occupied by none other than de Selby himself, the peculiar eminence grise – natural philosopher, psychologist, ballistician – whose enquiries into the nature of the world form the footnotes, and the queered epistemic backdrop to The Third Policeman.
“You’ll find it a little weird to begin with,” said the man in the bubble tea kiosk, “but you’ll soon get used to it.” This turned out to be a grotesque understatement, coupled with a patent untruth, the instant my first slurp of bubble tea shot up the special wide-bore straw and filled my mouth with globules. The kiosk man had already told me these were made out of tapioca flour, which was just as well, because without this pappy foreknowledge I would have spat them straight out. Drinking bubble tea didn’t feel “a little weird”. It felt as I’d imagine performing cunnilingus on an android equipped with latex genitals might feel like: the tiny clitorises slipped between my lips and oozed between the gaps in my teeth while my tongue swam in sweetly mucosal gloop.
See Will Self in conversation with Owen Hatherley on the third floor of the library at Brunel University at 5pm. on Tuesday. They will be discussing how British ideas of class have changed over the past 20 years, as well as how this has been registered in the built environment. The event is free and open to the public. For further details, go here.
Plymouth should, I think, be twinned with Hull: both are oddly remote-feeling cities for our right, tight little island. Hull, unlike Plymouth, at least has a motorway connection, but the Devonian capital must have felt like ultima Thule last winter when the mainline rail connection was severed in the storms. The cab driver who took me from the reconnected station to my hotel descanted on the depredations of wartime bombing, and how the brutalist/modernist and now postmodernist rebuilding of Plymouth has never compensated for the dreadful damage caused by wartime bombing. I must say I’m beginning to find this excuse – which can be heard in Southampton and Coventry et al as well – a little grating; I mean, it’s been nearly 70 years since VE Day, surely time enough to effect civic beautifying.
Today marks 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall “but its psychic effects are still in strong evidence, both at the collective and the individual level”. Read about Will Self’s walk along a 50km section of the route in the Guardian here.
Shark is published in hardback by Grove Atlantic in the US today, RRP $26:
“May 4, 1970. A week earlier, President Nixon ordered American ground forces into Cambodia to pursue the Vietcong. By the end of the day, four students will be shot dead by the National Guard on the grounds of Kent State University. On the other side of the Atlantic, it’s a brilliant sunny morning after an April of heavy rain, and at the “Concept House” therapeutic community he has set up in the London suburb of Willesden, maverick psychiatrist Dr. Zack Busner has been tricked into joining a decidedly ill-advised LSD trip with several of its disturbed residents. Five years later, sitting in a nearby cinema watching Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, Busner realizes the true nature of the events that transpired on that dread-soaked day, when a survivor of the worst disaster in the U.S. Navy’s history—the sinking of the USS Indianapolis—came face-to-face with the British Royal Air Force observer on the Enola Gay’s mission to bomb Hiroshima.
There are still some tickets left to see Will reading from his new novel, Shark, at The Idler Academy, 81 Westbourne Park Road, London W2 5QH on Thursday 6 November, from 7pm. For more details, visit the Idler here.