Reviews of Phone

The FT said Phone is “A novel of grand ideas, powered by a ravenous curiosity about the role of the technological revolution in our private and public woes, Phone nonetheless bristles with anxiety about the abuse of ‘intelligence’ — in medicine, in warfare, in software, in love … [Self’s] hurricane of eloquence blows in terrific passages of satire, comedy, even suspense — not to mention his pitch-perfect ear for the jargons and lingoes of modernity.”

The Mail on Sunday: “Zack is back. Will Self concludes his wordsplurging trilogy (Umbrella, 2012 Shark, 2014) with another unbroken block of modernist text featuring psychiatrist Zack Busner, now 78 and slipping mentally. Zack sections alternate with those in which Jonathan ‘the Butcher’ De’Ath of MI6, the great-nephew of an early patient (in Umbrella), has an affair with a British tank commander deployed to Iraq and caught up in prisoner abuse. Zack’s autistic grandson will connect it all through a smartphone he gives Gramps. Self’s preternatural gifts for invention weave human suffering and caring with psychiatry, war and technology. Difficult but a stunner.”

The Daily Telegraph: “Will Self’s new novel, Phone, is a kind of epic anti-tweet. It unspools over 600 pages without a single paragraph break, remorseless in its commitment to its own difficulty. It is a confrontational novel, making no concession to the abbreviated attention span of those who spend their millennial lives glued to the titular device. What better riposte to a culture that thinks in fewer than 140 characters?”

The Guardian: “This modernist narrative is best approached with a commitment to playfulness rather than a determination to hold all its strands close, and Self’s achievement is to make it intensely funny and humane. The book’s cerebral qualities are buttressed by his great skills as an observer and flaneur … Here, too, alongside the dead ends, the provisional tales and the fallen away characters, are some of the great stories: of damage handed on, generation to generation; of fading parents and vengeful children; of subterfuge and deception as necessary conditions of desire. And, of course, of death, which makes its most straightforward appearance in Phone’s closing lines, though it has been there all along.”