Listen to an interview with Will Self about Umbrella on KCRW (of Santa Monica College) here.
In largeheartedboy.com’s Book Notes series, Will Self has created – and discusses – a music playlist that relates to his most recently published book, Umbrella, from the Kinks’ “Ape Man” to “Don’t Let it Die” by Hurricane Smith.
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.
For US readers of Umbrella, here’s Will on how he researched his latest novel, which is a good introduction:
“Whenever I reach the end of a novel – and I mean the very end, when the second set of proofs have been corrected, and the button at the printers, for good or ill, has been pushed – I find myself plagued by a very particular and almost hallucinatory condition that I’ve dubbed – with exactitude if not felicity – ‘everythingitis’. The distinguishing feature of everythingitis – which it shares with certain bizarre mental states that afflict the overly zealous adepts of Zen meditation – is an obsessive need to review the content of the entire world, both physical and psychic, to check whether it has been incorporated into the text just completed. Are there puddles in the novel? Do adolescent girls flick back their hair at least once? And, if so, have the lobes of their ears – or lack of them – been described? I must stress: everythingitis covers everything, and as any novel that is genuinely ambitious tries to be a synecdoche of the world, so the malaise ramifies and ramifies: the novel may be set among disaffected teenagers in Zurich in 2006, but following its inexorably pathological logic, might there be a case for including at least a faint echo of the impact of the fall of Constantinople in 1453 on the Byzantine aristocracy?”
Visit the FT’s website here for the full article.
And for those who really want to drill down into the text, here are Donna Poppy’s copy editing rules for Umbrella:
- Italic has been used for “ejaculatory” thought – that is, thought that seems to pop out from the ordinary narrative, either because of its figurative qualities, or because of its heightened emotional qualities, or both. Hence things that would normally be in italic – everything from titles to foreign words – appear in roman. Snatches of song and verse are also italicised, as are named individual letters.
- Enclosing inverted commas are, for the most part, absent from the book. Dialogue is preceded by a short dash only when the rule’s presence is necessary to avoid confusion, ie when the speech in question is without a verb of saying or some other obvious indicator of speech.
- Long dashes (em rules) indicate temporal shifts or mood shifts, and can be thought of as aspirations – that is, breaths – in the text. Shifts in point of view are deliberately without signals of any kind. Additionally, em rules also stand in for one or more omitted letters within a word, in the conventional way.
- Short dashes (en rules) indicate new thoughts. If a new thought starts mid-sentence, so does the en dash – which accounts for why it sometimes appears after the closing comma in a clause. Short dashes also indicate that a line of dialogue has been interrupted or broken off – hence –? –. –! all appear.
- ?No semicolons.
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 Washington Post: “Self’s wildly nonlinear narrative offers other delights: richly detailed settings that bring the Edwardian era and mental hospitals sensuously alive, kaleidoscopic patterns of symbolism (umbrellas assume all sorts of forms and functions), and loads of mordant satire. Yes, Umbrella is a ‘difficult’ novel, but it amply rewards the effort.”
To buy a copy of Umbrella for $16.24, go to Amazon here.
This will be the first major publication of one of my books in the US that I haven’t crossed the pond for – and so salutations to my American readers; I write to you from my London fastness, tucked up snugly at the top of my 1848 house in sarf London, looking across the rooftops to where Renzo Piano’s Shard upthrusts, a teasing A la recherche de priapisme perdu. I have mixed feelings about not making it over – I am, of course, a demi-American on the maternal side, and hold a US passport, so the States is not so much close to me as engrafted. On the other hand, if I have any nationality at all, it’s Londonish, and the older I get, the less I like to stray.
Family matters ostensibly keep me here in London, but there’s also a part of me that sees the author tour – when mediated by jet fuel – as something of a solecism. Surely the entire point of being a writer is to reach people with your words, not your breath? Certainly that’s what attracted me to being a writer in the first place: what thrilled me about reading was that in the medium of the text I met with another sensibility decoupled from all contingent factors – sex, age, ethnicity, class – and so experienced the purest and most intimate comingling possible.
In my experience, meeting the writers you admire is almost always a disappointment – how can it not be? – and I wonder why it is that more people don’t feel that way. Here in the YooKay (a mostly fictional land), the old-style bookshop readings have been replaced by a myriad of book festivals, and really this is only because serried municipalities have figured out that, as desperate writers will do almost anything for no money whatsoever, it’s a cheap way of inculcating their miserable and isolate burghs with a little kulturkampf. They are immensely popular – these BritLitFests – and have become the Nuremberg rallies of the contemporary bourgeoisie. I cordially loathe most of them …
Still, at least they afford me the opportunity of reading publically to a lot of potential readers (even if most of them are there to see the latest celebrity egg-flipper, and just came along faut de mieux), whereas, apart from back in the day when I was an enfant terrible – instead of a grotty middle-aged man – my readings Stateside have mostly been to handfuls of buck-toothed teens in Barnes & Nobles marooned in out-of-town strip malls …
So, much better I stay here and do what I do best: crack on with the next book, a strange sort of sequel to Umbrella. In Umbrella, Dr Zack Busner mentions an incident with the foolhardy use of LSD in his Willesden Concept House (he says it was three years before, ie 1968, but his memory deceives him – the bad trip in fact took place in May 1970, the same day as the Kent State shootings). Anyway, I think you can probably guess the direction my wayward fictive sensibility is taking … back to the future for Busner’s next appearance in Shark.
To buy an unabridged audio book version of Umbrella, by Whole Story Audiobooks, which has also produced audio versions of The Butt, Liver (read by Will), The Book of Dave (also read by Will) and How the Dead Live, go to Amazon here.