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.”
The Guardian: “Scattered photographs, odd domestic details, a filthy reference to Margaret Atwood’s remote-book-signing device the LongPen: there are traces of reality in Walking to Hollywood but they are like the frantic nail-furrows of a cartoon character scrabbling on a rock-face before plunging into the void. Will Self ‘s psychogeographical (the geographical is not always a given) ramblings are split into three parts: “Very Little”, an account of the narrator’s relationship with achondroplastic dwarf and art-superstar Sherman Oaks “Walking to Hollywood”, an exhausting Los Angeles odyssey where everyone is played by an actor (Self is both David Thewlis and Pete Postlethwaite) and most affectingly, “Spurn Head”, the record of a coastal walk with a grimly inevitable rest-stop at its end. In the afterword, Self says each part represents a mental pathology – obsessive compulsive disorder, psychosis, Alzheimer’s – but these are subtle divisions in a book that examines the human brain with a scalpel in one hand, a brick in the other, and a lit firework between its teeth.”
The Independent: “Self’s latest work has its roots in the once fashionable notion that walking is a radical act. In this triptych of surreal tales that come dressed as memoir, Self takes on the role of loquacious author-narrator. In “Very Little”, he describes his relationship with celebrated sculptor and dwarf, Sherman Oakes, who aged 13 threatened to walk into the local bakery stripped naked except for a skullcap and attachE case. In the centrepiece, “Walking to Hollywood”, Self walks across LA, only to realise that he’s part of a movie and that every character he meets is played by a celebrity. Finally in “Spurn Head”, he tramps the coast of East Yorkshire, finding in the crumbling cliffs an extended metaphor for what he suspects is the early on-set of Alzheimer’s.”
The Observer: “Travelogue, film criticism and autobiography are among the genres fused in this surreal narrative, in which a neurotic Self-alike tries to shake off his obsessive-compulsive disorder by taking a trip to Los Angeles to find out who or what ‘killed film’ (the suspects include Sony, CGI and Mike Myers). After resuming a rivalrous childhood friendship with a 3ft-tall sculptor, he brawls with Daniel Craig’s stunt double, mutates into the Incredible Hulk, and wakes to find that he’s developed the breasts of the Mulholland Drive star Laura Harring. Essayistic interludes punctuate the action: there’s a bracing take on the Polanski affair, and many funny riffs about the effortful artifice film-making involves. When the narrator learns that air traffic controllers were flown to Pinewood Studios “to play the parts of the air traffic controllers” in the film United 93, he can’t help thinking of the ‘air traffic controllers who had ensured those air traffic controllers landed safely, so that they could pretend to be witnessing the feigned destruction of real bodies’.
“Jollity and gloom collide: the darker material, which draws on the author’s history of drug addiction and the death of his mother, brings to mind Bret Easton Ellis’s eerie memoir-thriller Lunar Park, a novel that Self is shown reading. Ellis himself pops up, along with several other writers who have come to LA to beg for work, including a tramp who turns out to be Salman Rushdie. A drolly emphatic disclaimer warns against mistaking these names for their real-life counterparts – which is probably just as well, given what Self writes about Toni Morrison.
“Extravagant prose is inevitably a stand-out feature of the book. The first vowel of the word ‘descended’ appears 523 times in order to evoke Norman Bates’s super-slo-mo knife attack in Douglas Gordon’s art installation 24-Hour Psycho. Although Self’s alter-ego frets about the ‘arrant nonsense’ of his style, there’s plenty to enjoy here, especially the 26-word compound adjective with which he memorably vents spleen at a gabby jet passenger.
“The fear of early-onset dementia haunts Self’s return to London, and he promptly embarks on a walking tour of the fast-eroding Yorkshire coast. At one point, he asks a local for directions to the next village. “Ahv no ahdeah”, comes the reply. Some readers may feel the same way about this bizarro hotchpotch – but if you’re prepared to accept its eccentricity, much fun awaits.”
The Independent on Sunday: “Will Self ‘s Walking to Hollywood consists of three skewed travelogues, in which truth bleeds bafflingly into fiction. Of Self’s previous work, it is perhaps closest in spirit to his erstwhile ‘psychogeography’ column for The Independent, in which he professed to unpick the ‘relationship between psyche and place’. But if those articles were often little more than scatological jeux d’esprit, this is a darker and more serious affair.
Not that Self’s usual exuberance is entirely absent. Reading the title essay, which documents his perambulations around downtown LA, is like watching a dirty-minded cartoonist doodle on a postcard, turning famous sights into obscene tableaux: the Incredible Hulk comes to life and starts rutting with the cars along Miracle Mile.
“Elsewhere, however, the book strikes a different tone. In ‘Very Little’, Self tramps the gloomy South Downs with a megalomaniac dwarf ‘Spurn Head’ recounts a hike along the crumbling Yorkshire coastline. Elliptical and unsettling, these two pieces suggest an intriguing shift in Self’s work, from the colourful surrealism of William Burroughs to something more akin to WG Sebald as in Sebald’s Vertigo, captionless black-and-white photographs embed the text, and dead-eyed doppelgangers abound.
“Walking to Hollywood ultimately fuses physical and psychological landscapes in ways that are unique, making it utterly Selfish – but in a good way.”