Two novels you must read

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.”

Great Apes – Reader Reviews

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

Great Apes – Reader Reviews

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

Great Apes – Guardian Review

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.”

Great Apes – iZine review

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. ”

Read the full review

Great Apes – Bookpage Review

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.”

Great Apes – New York Times Review

Gary Krist, September 1997

“Such, believe it or not, is the story line of ”Great Apes,” and if it doesn’t sound like your idea of literature, you’re probably not alone. In earlier books, like ”My Idea of Fun” and the story collection ”Grey Area” (in which both Zack Busner and Simon Dykes previously appeared, though in human form), Self made a name for himself as a defiant satirist with a peculiar mastery of the vocabulary of modern neurosis. Cultivating controversy in his life as well as in his work (during his stint as a reporter in the recent British election campaign, he was thrown off John Major’s plane, accused of shooting heroin in the bathroom), he has polarized the reading public both here and in England, earning the usual iconoclast’s reward of rabid denunciations and hyperbolic praise.”