Also, there’s a review of Umbrella at the NPR, which hails it as a “modernist masterpiece”, and an interview with Will here (which includes a reading from Umbrella by Will), and also a review in the Washington Post too.
Grove has just published Umbrella in the States, and early reviews have been as effusive as they were in the UK last year.
The Boston Globe: “The result is page after page of gorgeously musical prose. Self’s sentences bounce and weave, and like poetry, they refract. The result is mesmerizing.”
For the full review, go here.
The Economist: “An entertaining and enthralling book … [Self] has managed to write an experimental novel that is also a compassionate and thrilling book—and one that, despite its difficulty, deserves to be read.”
For the full review, go here.
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’.”
‘An ambitiously conceived and brilliantly executed novel in the high modernist tradition of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf … Its scope is dazzling … The switches between perspective and chronology are demanding (there are no chapters), but Self handles them with bravura skill, setting up imagery and phrases that echo suggestively between different episodes … Umbrella is an immense achievement.’ (Full review here.)
‘Though hard work is certainly demanded from the reader, it is always rewarded. Through the polyphonic, epoch-hopping torrent, we gradually construct a coherent and beguiling narrative. As the title-defining epigraph from Joyce alerts us – “A brother is as easily forgotten as an umbrella” – fraternity is an urgent concern.’ (Full review here.)
The Independent has given Walking to Hollywood five stars in its paperbacks of 2011:
“The three essays collected in Walking to Hollywood are non-fictional travelogues that spiral slowly into abstraction, similar in many ways to the ‘psychogeography’ columns on which Will Self collaborated with Ralph Steadman.
“But here the tone is markedly different, the author’s usual Technicolor exuberance tempered by a monochrome melancholy. It is significant that Steadman’s illustrations have been displaced by the sort of black-and-white photographs beloved of WG Sebald; Self’s writing seems to have taken a darker turn under the German writer’s saturnine influence. Not that this book entirely lacks the old scatological mischief. Sebald, after all, is unlikely to have described car exhausts as ‘turbofarts’.”
The Sunday Times: “In Very Little, the first in this triptych of wacky tales rooted in autobiographical reality but twisted through gonzo distortions, Self recalls an outrageously funny friend (a dwarf, with whose sister he had embarrassing teenage sex at a party). The Hollywood in the title story is a nightmare of video games and scientology where Self morphs into a female porn star and the Incredible Hulk. The last tale is a grey affair about coastal erosion, after which Self explains that the three have been themed around obsessionality, psychosis and dementia respectively. The effect is hallucinogenic, paranoid and gruellingly clever.”
“Surreal, scurrilous, solipsistic, sarcastic, and sardonic, Self’s newest bit of unclassifiable literature continues his career-long carpet-bombing of contemporary culture’s most heinous aspects, sparing no one, including the author himself.” A review of Walking to Hollywood at Salon.
And from a review at Boston.com: “From mad, marvelous, swirling bits of narrative disorder, Self fashions his scathing satiric denunciations of the eroded artistic, cultural, and moral values of a solipsistic media-driven world … While Self’s ultimate vision is grim, it is described in dazzling bursts of verbal pyrotechnics … The language here is as rich as Vladimir Nabokov’s, the rage as deep as Jonathan Swift’s, the narrative as convoluted as Nathanael West’s.”
The Guardian: “You see suddenly that, beneath the apocalyptic humour and fizzing contempt of Walking to Hollywood lies the iron will and cold, self-inspecting intelligence of its author. All along the book has been about death.”
The Spectator: “The conversations with Scooby-Doo, the made-up characters, the sex, lies and videotape – this is a landscape contoured, almost in whole, by Self’s imagination … It is, as always, a place crammed with a Devil’s Dictionary’s worth of wordplay, and with an unerring tendency towards the absurd and perverse … Walking to Hollywood is certainly an engaging enough breakdown on the part of its author. Just make sure to approach it with all the professional detachment of a psychiatrist.”
Walking to Hollywood, Will Self’s new book, is published by Bloomsbury today. One of the first reviews is from the Sunday Times, who said that it was “Casually delirious and unfailingly precise … the whole book is a painfully brilliant performance full of Self’s characteristic obsessions with scale, texture and metamorphosis. The overall effect is hallucinogenic, paranoid and almost gruellingly clever.”
There was an interview with Self in the Telegraph last week talking about the book, which can be found here.
“A bravura collection of short stories about a much-abused human organ”
Will Self is rightly admired for the sheer energy of his writing, his pyrotechnic wit and wordplay, and his willingness to experiment with genre and narrative. He is also criticised as ill-disciplined, self-indulgent and more concerned with style than substance. These strengths and weaknesses are both on display in Liver, which he characteristically subtitles A Fictional Organ with a Surface Anatomy of Four Lobes. This is not simply a fancy way of saying the book consists of four interrelated stories: “surface anatomy” is a technical term for the description of features that can be discerned merely by looking at, rather than dissecting, an organism. So, is there more here than meets and dazzles the eye?