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.
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.
The Spectator: “Umbrella is a magnificent celebration of modernist prose, an epic account of the first world war, a frightening investigation into the pathology of mental illness, and the first true occasion when Self’s ambition and talent have produced something of real cultural significance.”
New Statesman: “Umbrella is as much a novel about the historical slump of modernist fiction – and its potential reanimation – as it is about the fates of encephalics … Self has knowing fun with timing his historical shifts to the rhythms of technology; a shop window in 1918 becomes a 1970s television spewing game-show prizes … a complexly textured, conceptually forbidding thesis about the modern, its art and their discontents. This being Self, though, there is also a great deal of humour, much of it to do with the dismal, drugged, inhuman pass to which Busner’s patients have come after decades in their psychiatric ‘jail within a jail’.”
The Independent on Sunday: “Self’s stream-of-consciousness style allows him delicately to trace connections between war, technology and the mind … He renders the texture of Audrey’s London, its odours and colloquialisms, in vivid detail.
“Perhaps in the story of Sacks’ roused patients, Self saw a metaphor for his own attempts to resurrect the past, to give history a distinctive, earthy voice. In this he succeeds beautifully, writing with a new sophistication. The result is a stunning novel, and a compelling Self-reinvention.”
The Daily Telegraph: “‘The purpose of poetry,’ Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz once wrote, ‘is to remind us/How difficult it is to remain just one person’. Will Self’s new novel has at its heart the same purpose, in prose. Much of the book’s 90-year span is spent in a psychiatric hospital, where ‘personality’ unravels, and at the Western Front of the Great War, where reality is utterly fractured … Every experience is filtered through another, or infiltrated by it. At times, this Self-imposed exile from any “fixed regard”, threatens the narrative’s sanity, and its readability, but that is the point. Whether Umbrella takes experimental fiction beyond the magnificent cul-de-sac into which Joyce steered it is doubtful. But this fresh reminder of the potential of finding new selves – to be and to write with – is extraordinary.”
The Sunday Times: “If the realist novel welcomes you in, takes your coat, hat (and umbrella), shows you to a comfortable seat and gets you a gin and tonic, this book leaves you to let yourself in, sit yourself down (if you can find room) and get your own bloody drink if you insist on having one.”
‘An ambitiously conceived and brilliantly executed novel in the high modernist tradition of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf … Its scope is dazzling … The switches between perspective and chronology are demanding (there are no chapters), but Self handles them with bravura skill, setting up imagery and phrases that echo suggestively between different episodes … Umbrella is an immense achievement.’ (Full review here.)
‘Though hard work is certainly demanded from the reader, it is always rewarded. Through the polyphonic, epoch-hopping torrent, we gradually construct a coherent and beguiling narrative. As the title-defining epigraph from Joyce alerts us – “A brother is as easily forgotten as an umbrella” – fraternity is an urgent concern.’ (Full review here.)
‘Umbrella is old-school modernism. It isn’t supposed to be a breeze. But it is, to use the literary critical term of art, kind of amazing … It may not be his easiest, but I think this may be Will Self’s best book.’ (Full review here.)
‘There is a contemplative quality to the prose that feels new … but the content remains familiar: a Swiftian disgust with the body; a fastidious querulousness about human sexuality; a forcing of attention on human frailty … Undoubtedly Self’s most considered novel, as much a new beginning as a consolidation of everything he has written to date.’ (Full review here.)
‘The Edwardian sections are the most lavishly engaging, with Self doing different voices like a schizophrenic music hall act. One of the most striking scenes is a journey taken by Audrey and her father through the thronging streets of “Lunnun town”, the father’s umbrella poking its way through all early 20th-century mod cons: motor vehicles, moving images, advertising, air travel, electric light, department stores, new professions. Audrey has a turn, the first sign of her brain fever, her hands beginning to shake with the impact of modernity. Self, the renowned flâneur, brilliantly paints the anxieties of the time in “this tour of the city about to be swept away” to make way for “the city of the future”, the patination of umbrellas covering a street soused in drizzle.’
‘In the course of the book the umbrella becomes a syringe, a penis, a fetish of the bourgeoisie, as one Edwardian socialist pompously declares it, and the novel itself an umbrella beneath whose canopy all manner of anxieties about technology and the body cram together.’ (Full review here.)
Scotland on Sunday:
‘Umbrella is an astonishing achievement, a novel of exhilarating linguistic invention and high moral seriousness.’ (Full review here.)
‘A hot tip for the Booker prize, Will Self’s Joycean tribute is a stream of consciousness tour de force.’ (Full review here.)
‘A surprisingly moving story of common people crushed by the state.’