“On holiday in a strange desert country, Tom Brodzinski unthinkingly throws a cigarette butt over a hotel balcony; it hits someone, and before Tom can do anything about it, he is accused of assault and swept up in arcane laws that set him on a journey of reparation. This is a fable as well as a slightly uneasy political satire about the indigenous peoples of Australia, and the West’s treatment of Iraq. Will Self has produced a fizzing cocktail of Conrad and Kafka that, while not his best novel, manages to be both immensely readable and mysteriously gripping. Philip Womack“
“Tom Brodzinski, on holiday in a strange, unnamed country, decides to cave in to the strict anti-smoking laws and give up his nicotine habit. First, he wants a final cigarette. When he flicks the butt from the balcony of his rented apartment, it drops on to the head of a man sunbathing below. Forced to make reparations to the victim’s family for this “assault”, Brodzinski begins a nightmare journey of redemption through a crazy landscape ravaged by warfare and characterised by the tribal customs of its inhabitants. Self’s homage to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is written with razor-sharp descriptions and dark comedy which grip the reader until the concluding pages. Lucy Scholes”
“Alan Ayckbourn once wrote a play with 48 variant endings depending on whether a character chose to smoke a cigarette in the first scene. None of them is quite as preposterous as the fate that befalls Will Self’s hero, Tom Brodzinski, when he unthinkingly flips a stub over the balcony of his holiday home, causing mild burns to the man in the apartment below. A simple accident soon develops into a punitive sequence of compensation claims handled by extortionate lawyers and incompetent witch-doctors. The location is anyone’s guess – reference to dunnies and interior desert indicates Australia, though the insurgency going on suggests Afghanistan or Iraq. The invented anthropology is adeptly realised, though it also leads to passages of Self indulgence, such as lingering over arcane rituals whose significance is known only to the author. The satire comes with a Swiftian sense of indignation, though the continued harping about prohibition in public places suggests that the one thing that really irks him is anti-smoking legislation. Alfred Hickling.”
Review of The Butt (now out in paperback, Bloomsbury, £5.99) in the Telegraph: “You can always trust Will Self to take a mildly amusing conceit, blow it up to seemingly absurd proportions and produce something of lasting comic value. The Butt is pure Self, pushing satire to its limits and beyond. A man holidaying in an unnamed country flips the butt of his cigarette off the balcony of his apartment on to the head of another man, which is treated as assault, which carries draconian penalties, which?…?But why give away such a splendidly barmy plot? Just read it.”
Two of Will’s novels have been chosen by the Guardian for their 1,000 novels you must read series:
Great Apes (1997)
“Planet of the Apes meets Nineteen Eighty-Four. Simon Dykes wakes up one morning to a world where chimpanzees are self-aware and humans are the equivalent of chimps in our world. Simon has lived a life of quick drugs, shallow artists and meaningless sex. But this London, much like a PG tips advert, has chimps in human clothing but with their chimpness intact. The carnivalesque world is humorous, gripping and provocative.”
How the Dead Live (2000)
“In Self’s irrepressible, motormouthed third novel, you take your emotional baggage with you into the next life – literally. When Lily Bloom dies, she simply moves house: to a basement flat in Dulston, north London borough for the deceased, which she shares with a calcified foetus and her surly, long-dead son. There’s the usual druggy underworld and dazzling wordplay – the book is worth reading for its linguistic fireworks alone – but it’s Lily who gives the novel its emotional resonance and profundity. She’s a wonderful creation: sarcastic, frightened, smart, infuriating and humane.”
The Daily Telegraph review of The Butt:
“Self writes here with an adroit impersonation of coarse exuberance that makes The Butt as readable as a blokeish airport novel (though with a fuddlingly large vocabulary). But just beneath the brash surface shimmer the unmistakable apparitions of Self’s masters: Swift, Voltaire and Lewis Carroll are all partly responsible for the ingenious, mephitic invention that is The Butt.”
One of the first reviews of Liver, from Time Out.
Michael Bywater reviews The Butt in The Independent.
of The Butt can be found here