Will Self’s memoir, Will, is published today by Viking. Duncan White in The Daily Telegraph said: “Self writes with the same propulsive prose that he has deployed in his masterful recent trilogy, Umbrella (2012), Shark (2014) and Phone (2017), replete with riffs, puns, recursive loops and characteristic ellipses and italics. Perhaps Will is just another Selfian character, subject to absolute authorial control, the fragmented derangement of his youth woven into an intricate and coherent whole by the mature author.”
The Independent said: “Will Self’s memoir about addiction is an intense, stream-of-consciousness-like account of his life as a young addict, told through five ‘episodes’, starting from when he was 17. Self refers to himself in the third person throughout – in sentences such as ‘Will likes to quote Turgenev on the subject of enlightenment: What’s the difference between a white void and a black void’ – as he casts a jauntily honest eye over his once anarchic lifestyle.”
Alex Preston wrote in The Observer: “Darkly angelic prose… a joy to read, with the final part in particular recalling David Foster Wallace at his best… If, as he says early on in the book, ‘there’s nothing remotely exciting about heroin addiction’, there’s more than mere nostalgic pleasure in this gleefully self-lacerating memoir of drug abuse and rehab.”
Will Self’s talk from October 2018 at the Hillingdon Literary Festival, which begins with a reading from a section of his short story “Scale” (from Grey Area). Will discusses the writing of his books Walking to Hollywood and Phone, the importance of the M40 in his fiction, pretending to be British, the Iraq war and a little about his new memoir, Will, which is due to be published in November.
Listen to Will Self reading his short story “The North London Book of the Dead” on Radio 4 here until 9 May. It was first broadcast in 1995.
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.
There’s a rare chance to catch Will in the States this week – tonight at 7pm he’ll be at a free event at Harvard Book Store, 1256 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA, 02138; on Thursday at 7.30pm he’ll be reading from Phone with Martin Amis at 92ND STREET Y, Unterberg Poetry Center, 1395 Lexington Ave, New York, NY, 10128; and on Saturday at 6pm he’ll be at: Politics and Prose book store, 5015 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington DC, 20008.
The FT said Phone is “A novel of grand ideas, powered by a ravenous curiosity about the role of the technological revolution in our private and public woes, Phone nonetheless bristles with anxiety about the abuse of ‘intelligence’ — in medicine, in warfare, in software, in love … [Self’s] hurricane of eloquence blows in terrific passages of satire, comedy, even suspense — not to mention his pitch-perfect ear for the jargons and lingoes of modernity.”
The Mail on Sunday: “Zack is back. Will Self concludes his wordsplurging trilogy (Umbrella, 2012 Shark, 2014) with another unbroken block of modernist text featuring psychiatrist Zack Busner, now 78 and slipping mentally. Zack sections alternate with those in which Jonathan ‘the Butcher’ De’Ath of MI6, the great-nephew of an early patient (in Umbrella), has an affair with a British tank commander deployed to Iraq and caught up in prisoner abuse. Zack’s autistic grandson will connect it all through a smartphone he gives Gramps. Self’s preternatural gifts for invention weave human suffering and caring with psychiatry, war and technology. Difficult but a stunner.”
The Daily Telegraph: “Will Self’s new novel, Phone, is a kind of epic anti-tweet. It unspools over 600 pages without a single paragraph break, remorseless in its commitment to its own difficulty. It is a confrontational novel, making no concession to the abbreviated attention span of those who spend their millennial lives glued to the titular device. What better riposte to a culture that thinks in fewer than 140 characters?”
The Guardian: “This modernist narrative is best approached with a commitment to playfulness rather than a determination to hold all its strands close, and Self’s achievement is to make it intensely funny and humane. The book’s cerebral qualities are buttressed by his great skills as an observer and flaneur … Here, too, alongside the dead ends, the provisional tales and the fallen away characters, are some of the great stories: of damage handed on, generation to generation; of fading parents and vengeful children; of subterfuge and deception as necessary conditions of desire. And, of course, of death, which makes its most straightforward appearance in Phone’s closing lines, though it has been there all along.”
Listen to Will talking for about half an hour on Afternoon Edition (available for 28 days) on BBC Radio 5 live here at the 1hr 11 minute mark, taking in the “muted” general election, autism, how the smartphone has changed us and finishing his trilogy of modernist novels with Phone in which “a new technology is visited upon us and a new conflict ensues and what ensues from that … is a new form of mental illness”. He also reveals that he’ll be recording an audiobook of Phone and that his next book will be a memoir.
Will was also on the Robert Elms show on BBC Radio London, which you can listen to here at the 1hr 10min mark (available for 28 days); an FT podcast; and Front Row on Radio 4 (at the 6 minute mark) here in which he reads a short passage from Phone, taking in James Joyce, the anti-psychiatry movement and why Alzheimer’s might be a sane response to today’s world.