When artist Simon Dykes wakes after a late night of routine debauchery, he discovers that his world is irretrievably changed. His girlfriend, Sarah, has turned into a chimpanzee. And, to Simon’s appalled surprise, so has the rest of humanity.
Will Self’s novel Great Apes (“Planet of the Apes meets Nineteen Eighty-Four … humorous, gripping and provocative”) has been adapted for the stage by Patrick Marmion (The Divided Laing) and will be on at Arcola Theatre in east London from today until April 21. For tickets, visit arcolatheatre.com. Read what Will has to say about the origins of his 1996 novel and why he’s delighted it’s being adapted for the stage here.
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.
A short audio clip of Will Self talking with Professor David Penny about the rights, or otherwise, of great apes on the BBC.
SpikeMagazine.com, May 1997: Chris Mitchell talks to WS about Great Apes and the aftermath of the Prime Minister heroin airplane incident:
“”People understood intuitively at that point that to have an animal that was close to human but not human threw into turmoil a whole set of categories about cosmology and the Chain of Being,” he explains. “Swift was the first of a long line of satirists in the eighteenth century to have ape fantasies and construct ape worlds; there’s a Dutch version of it, a German version – it became a very enduring theme. So I’m not so much writing in the tradition of Swift as standing this long tradition of ape fantasies on its head.”
48 reader reviews
“Great Apes was a waste of time to read. The author was obviously trying to comment on modern society through a “Planet Of The Apes” type gimmick, but the payoff isn’t worth the effort. The author really doesn’t have much of anything important to say, and comes off as more interested in painting a picture of what the world would be like if chimps were dominant, rather than saying anything new about what humans are like. It would have worked better as light reading sci-fi where the fantasy setting *is* the story. When I got to the end I thought “Is that it?”. Self thinks he’s pretty clever but the gimmick gets in the way. In the end, it wasn’t worth my time.” – Curran Filer
23 reader reviews
“Once you get over the opening of the book – which will put you off enjoying sex for a goodish while – and move into the London of the chimps, the humour really kicks in. Really the joke is no deeper than a PG Tips commercial – the juxtaposition of putting chimpanzees in human clothing in a human world – but it is superbly realized. You’ll come to love the terms ‘pant-hoot’, ‘knuckle-walk’ and ‘go bipedal’. The way Self handles this anthropomorphising of chimps, and primatomorphising of humans, is just genius. The chimps are civilised in all ways, but their chimpness is retained and manifested is hilarious ways; sub-adults (teenage youths) are still sullen and insolent, the eminent professor will arrive home to his Group and discuss his day at the office whilst all around is vigorous inter-generational incestuous mating and casual displays of swollen anuses (perhaps the unpleasant human sexual behaviour at the start of the book was intended to contrast with the innocent and functional mating of the chimps, to show what dark shadows we humans throw on what is essentially the same act).” – Nigel Collier
Sam Leith, May 1997
“When Simon Dykes awakes one morning from uneasy dreams, he finds himself transformed in his bed into a giant ape. Worse, the young artist’s attractive and sexually voracious girlfriend, Sarah, is now a well-upholstered and no less sexually voracious chimpanzee. Simon goes, as Self would have it, ‘humanshit’. He spent the previous night swilling, snorting and pilling among a crowd of tatty media whores in a London clubland familiar from Self’s novella, The Sweet Smell of Psychosis. So Simon, not unreasonably, assumes that he is suffering a psychotic episode brought on by overdoing the ‘crap bar-room cocaine’. No such luck. He is carted off to secure accommodation, and a team of primate psychiatrists set about ‘curing’ him of the inexplicable delusion that he is human.”
Jayne Margetts, 1997
“Great Apes is arguably a twist of genius, and there are passages that kindle the imagination. But sometimes Will Self has the habit of carrying himself too far out on a limb, snaking his way into over analysis and attention to detail. However, in the current climate of decadent London’s artistic excess he’s sure – like his fictional protagonist Simon Dykes – to be the toast of the town for a long time. ”
Charles Wyrick, 1997
“Using Dykes as his Gulliver, Self takes a hilarious romp through modern society. In “Great Apes” the worlds of contemporary art, academics and psychiatry fall quickly as easy prey to Self’s mock sociology of chimpanzee culture. Just imagine a popular art opening crowded with chimpanzees dressed in chic chimp evening wear and you can get a peek at the novel’s vision. “Great Apes” is literature’s Planet of the Apes as author Self plays the role of a funhouse anthropologist, a voyeur into a world of his own warping. On waking to a world modified to satisfy chimpanzee issues, the protagonist Simon Dykes is hysterical. As readers we can only be amused. When Simon Dykes first screeches at the sight of his girlfriend’s hairy chest and arms, we know we are witnessing the birth of a strange world.”