Liver: Sunday Times review

“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?

A critical essay on Leberknödel from Liver

Liver Let Die
Will Self’s newest collection, Liver, contains a novella, Leberknödel, that is set in Zurich and has a protagonist called Joyce Beddoes. Call me an obsessive Irishman, but put “Zurich” and “Joyce” together and you automatically come up with James Joyce, who wrote a number of chapters of Ulysses in Zurich, died and is buried there. The link seems obvious to me. When you discover that Self’s Joyce eats a meal at the famous Kronenhalle (James Joyce’s favourite hangout and the place where he ate his last proper meal) and that she has reserved a plot in Fluntern cemetery (the very same cemetery where James Joyce lies buried), then you know that the sequence of coincidences is not a sequence of coincidences. Strangely, in British reviews of Self’s book in the likes of The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Independent and the Times Literary Supplement, not one critic has picked up on this. If the allusions to James Joyce were simply decorative then perhaps the reviewers could be forgiven for leaving it unmentioned. But to miss the ghostly absence of James Joyce in this occult novella is to read a different story then the one Self has written.