The Spectator: “Umbrella is a magnificent celebration of modernist prose, an epic account of the first world war, a frightening investigation into the pathology of mental illness, and the first true occasion when Self’s ambition and talent have produced something of real cultural significance.”
New Statesman: “Umbrella is as much a novel about the historical slump of modernist fiction – and its potential reanimation – as it is about the fates of encephalics … Self has knowing fun with timing his historical shifts to the rhythms of technology; a shop window in 1918 becomes a 1970s television spewing game-show prizes … a complexly textured, conceptually forbidding thesis about the modern, its art and their discontents. This being Self, though, there is also a great deal of humour, much of it to do with the dismal, drugged, inhuman pass to which Busner’s patients have come after decades in their psychiatric ‘jail within a jail’.”
The Independent on Sunday: “Self’s stream-of-consciousness style allows him delicately to trace connections between war, technology and the mind … He renders the texture of Audrey’s London, its odours and colloquialisms, in vivid detail.
“Perhaps in the story of Sacks’ roused patients, Self saw a metaphor for his own attempts to resurrect the past, to give history a distinctive, earthy voice. In this he succeeds beautifully, writing with a new sophistication. The result is a stunning novel, and a compelling Self-reinvention.”
The Daily Telegraph: “‘The purpose of poetry,’ Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz once wrote, ‘is to remind us/How difficult it is to remain just one person’. Will Self’s new novel has at its heart the same purpose, in prose. Much of the book’s 90-year span is spent in a psychiatric hospital, where ‘personality’ unravels, and at the Western Front of the Great War, where reality is utterly fractured … Every experience is filtered through another, or infiltrated by it. At times, this Self-imposed exile from any “fixed regard”, threatens the narrative’s sanity, and its readability, but that is the point. Whether Umbrella takes experimental fiction beyond the magnificent cul-de-sac into which Joyce steered it is doubtful. But this fresh reminder of the potential of finding new selves – to be and to write with – is extraordinary.”
The Sunday Times: “If the realist novel welcomes you in, takes your coat, hat (and umbrella), shows you to a comfortable seat and gets you a gin and tonic, this book leaves you to let yourself in, sit yourself down (if you can find room) and get your own bloody drink if you insist on having one.”