The Butt


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The Butt - Will Self
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Synopsis:
Tom Brodzinski is a man who takes his own good intentions for granted. But when he finally decides to give up smoking, a moment’s inattention to detail becomes his undoing. Flipping the butt of his final cigarette off the balcony of the holiday apartment he’s renting with his family, Tom is appalled when it lands on the head of one his fellow countrymen, Reggie Lincoln. The elderly Lincoln is badly burnt, and since the cigarette butt passed through public space before hitting him, the local authorities are obliged to regard Tom’s action as an assault, despite his benign intentions. Worse is to follow: Lincoln is married to a native from one of the rigorous, mystical tribes of the desert interior, and their customary law is incorporated into the civil statute.In order to make reparations to Mrs Lincoln’s people, Tom will have to leave his family behind, and carry the appropriate goods and chattels deep into the arid heart of this strange, island continent. Any of this might be bearable, were it not for Tom’s companion, forced on him by his enigmatic lawyer, the mixed-race Jethro Swai-Phillips.

Brian Prentice, like Tom, has to make reparations and although there is a taboo that prevents either man from knowing the exact detail of the other’s offence, Tom’s almost 100 per cent certain that he’s a child-abuser. As they drive into the desert and encounter a violent counter-insurgency war that Tom has allowed himself to remain in ignorance of, the relationship between the two men becomes one of complicit guilt as well as seething mistrust. Refusing facile moral certitudes, Will Self’s latest novel is set in a distorted world, in a country that is part Australia, part Iraq, part Greeneland and part the heart of a distinctively modern darkness.

New Bloomsbury book covers

Greg Heinimann at Bloomsbury has created a series of new book covers for Will Self’s back catalogue to coincide with the paperback publication of Walking to Hollywood (below) in September. The new covers are for My Idea of Fun, The Quantity Theory of Insanity, Cock & Bull, The Sweet Smell of Psychosis, Junk Mail, Grey Area, Great Apes and The Butt.

Read a short report about it in Creative Review here.

Walking to Hollywood paperback

Telegraph review of The Butt

“On holiday in a strange desert country, Tom Brodzinski unthinkingly throws a cigarette butt over a hotel balcony; it hits someone, and before Tom can do anything about it, he is accused of assault and swept up in arcane laws that set him on a journey of reparation. This is a fable as well as a slightly uneasy political satire about the indigenous peoples of Australia, and the West’s treatment of Iraq. Will Self has produced a fizzing cocktail of Conrad and Kafka that, while not his best novel, manages to be both immensely readable and mysteriously gripping. Philip Womack

The Butt: Observer and Guardian reviews

“Tom Brodzinski, on holiday in a strange, unnamed country, decides to cave in to the strict anti-smoking laws and give up his nicotine habit. First, he wants a final cigarette. When he flicks the butt from the balcony of his rented apartment, it drops on to the head of a man sunbathing below. Forced to make reparations to the victim’s family for this “assault”, Brodzinski begins a nightmare journey of redemption through a crazy landscape ravaged by warfare and characterised by the tribal customs of its inhabitants. Self’s homage to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is written with razor-sharp descriptions and dark comedy which grip the reader until the concluding pages. Lucy Scholes

The Butt out in paperback

Review of The Butt (now out in paperback, Bloomsbury, £5.99) in the Telegraph: “You can always trust Will Self to take a mildly amusing conceit, blow it up to seemingly absurd proportions and produce something of lasting comic value. The Butt is pure Self, pushing satire to its limits and beyond. A man holidaying in an unnamed country flips the butt of his cigarette off the balcony of his apartment on to the head of another man, which is treated as assault, which carries draconian penalties, which?…?But why give away such a splendidly barmy plot? Just read it.”