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Umbrella (2012)

by Will Self(Favorite Author)
3.18 of 5 Votes: 2
1408820145 (ISBN13: 9781408820148)
Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
review 1: Self seems to have reached a sort of full maturity with this book. We see a continuation of his preoccupation with psychiatry as a metaphor for society (shades of Kesey) but he takes things to a new, experimental level. Consciously in the puzzle-like style of Joyce or Faulkner, where the reader has to figure out what is going on and the style intentionally clouds the action under a thick mesh of wordplay, he nonetheless undermines this aesthetic by providing, in the endpapers, a helpful explanation of the narrative frame of the book, which skips around among three time periods--(1) the early life of Audrey Death (sic), a working-class London factory worker involved in feminism and socialism who succumbs to a weird form of encephalitis which puts victims, by the thousands... more, into a kind of long-term coma--along with simultaneous experiences of her brother, in the trenches of the Great War; (2) the period in the '70s when Dr. Zachary Busner uses the now elderly but still comatose Death and other "enkies" in a London mental institution to try out an experimental drug that restores them to consciousness; and (3) Dr. Busner's drab senescent retirement, in the present day, as he mulls the meaning of his work in the '70s and the meaning of who (or, indeed, what) Death (sic) is. The jacket flap tells us the novel is a vindication of and manifesto for modernism as against postmodernism, and so it is no accident that the subject matter is personalities from the chaos of the 1910s being transported, as though by time machine, to the 21st century. Self seems to tell us that the Great War was as bad as anything we postmoderns are subjected to--or worse--and that the societal dislocations of that era are no less profound than our own, and that in a way Joyce and the Dadaists and the 1920s and '30s political radicals had a much healthier reaction to the horrors of the trenches than we postmodernists do to our own piddling tribulations. Self conveys this partly through his own writing style, which weaves a path among those of earlier masters (the language is not impenetrably Joycean, but a working knowledge of both thick Cockney dialect and psychiatric jargon is recommended), but also through his insistence on seeing society through the lens of psychiatry, and in particular the floundering psychiatric "science" of those warehoused pessimistically in institutions. His aim is to convince the reader that you cannot really understand a society until you see how it treats the mad, the violent, the comatose, and others who, in some ways, "contribute nothing." This book will put Self in the Pantheon.
review 2: Admittedly I'm not the biggest reader, so in an effort to widen my repertoire I am reading Will Selfs Umbrella via my Book Club, but unfortunately this book is like wading through treacle. It's just fluffy padding and unnecessary prosy description of images and thoughts that seem more like showing off than real story telling. Less is more with this style of writing for me. 40 pages in I'm afraid I can't bring myself to carry on. I'm sure Will Self fans will adore it. less
Reviews (see all)
So glad I persevered with this book as the writing style was a challenge at first.
Forced myself to read James Joyce, could not do same with this.
One of the few times in my life where I did not finish a book.
Thank goodness I have finished this book!
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