Will Self concludes the threesome of novels that comprise his modernist ‘Busner-Project’ with this 617-page bilge of words pumped straight out of the minds of his characters, notably psychiatrist Zack Busner, drifting into a dementia that weakens his grip on the present and delivers him to the breakfast bar of a Manchester hotel without his trousers, and Jonathan De’Ath, spy and secret lover of Colonel Gawain Thomas, about to lead his troops into Iraq. Self’s great achievement and presumed intention is to create, by the breaking and reconstitution of language, a remarkable study of how thought moves in the mind, looping, moving at any one moment on many parallel tracks, in cul-de-sac curlicues and feedback loops. Thought is constantly assailed by interference, often arising from the mechanisms of language itself but also from the instability of referents, and Self’s text is full of rather funny linguistic jokes and precise ironic observations, and is frequently every bit as irritating as your own thoughts. The identities of the narrators segue into one another, Busner’s actual world barely registering on, and having no clear delineation from, the loosely bundled and rebundled memories and urges that hardly pass as personhood, the distance between each stitch of ‘actual’ narrative containing great tangled loops and knots of mental thread. If our thoughts cannot define us, what can be the organising principle of our identities? (if we are to have identities). The mobile phone is a technological intermediary positioned on the membrane between the so-called internal and so-called external parts of our worlds, positioned, in other words, at the only place where identity could be located, a place of interplay and contention. Do we define our identities or can they only be defined for us by others? Not only do we outsource our memories, our communicating faculties, our (illusory) identities to our mobile phones, these mobile phones are linked, at barely a few steps remove, to all other mobile phones, and it could be said that all phones comprise one vast technorganism, a collective consciousness parasitic upon (and formative of) the thoughts and words of the flaffing and ludicrous individual consciousnesses it auxilliarises.
Meet Jonathan De'Ath, aka 'the Butcher'. The curious thing about the Butcher is that everyone who knows him - his washed-up old university lecturer father, his jumbling-bumbling mother, his hippy-dippy brothers, his so-called friends, his spooky colleagues and his multitudinous lovers - they all apply this epithet to him quite independently, each in ignorance of the others. He knows everyone calls him 'the Butcher' behind his back, but he also knows that they don't know the only real secret he maintains, encrypted in the databanks of his steely mind: Colonel Gawain Thomas, husband, father, highly-trained tank commander - is Jonathan De'Ath's longtime lover.
An exciting, mesmerizing, wonderfully disturbing book. Go with it and it will suck you under -- Daily Telegraph on 'Shark' Highly enjoyable, vividly, even profoundly imagined. Self is creating something rather grand -- Sunday Times on 'Shark' Daring, exuberant... Will Self has worked a wonder -- John Banville on 'Umbrella' Prodigiously original and very funny -- Observer on 'The Book of Dave' Dazzling, hilarious ... one of the finest and funniest London novels in years -- Time Out on 'The Book of Dave'
Will Self is the author of many novels and books of non-fiction, including Great Apes, The Book of Dave, How the Dead Live, which was shortlisted for the Whitbread Novel of the Year 2002, The Butt, winner of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction 2008, and Umbrella, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2012. He lives in south London.