Umbrella

Will Self, Author
Will Self. Grove, $25 (448p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2072-4
Reviewed on: 12/24/2012
Release date: 01/01/2013
Paperback - 448 pages - 978-0-8021-2202-5
Open Ebook - 448 pages - 978-0-8021-9381-0
Paperback - 416 pages - 978-1-4088-4121-1
Paperback - 397 pages - 978-1-4088-3209-7
Hardcover - 14 pages - 978-1-4712-1618-3
Hardcover - 1 pages - 978-1-4712-2324-2
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Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Self’s sweeping experimental new novel (after Walking to Hollywood) creaks under the weight of chaotic complexity. At its core lies a fractured matrix only partially resembling a coherent story. For more than 50 years, octogenarian Audrey Death aka De’Ath, Deeth, Deerth has languished in North London’s Friern Mental Hospital, suffering from encephalitis lethargica—a brain-damaging sleeping sickness she contracted in 1918 that renders patients either “whirled into a twisted immobility, or else unwound spastic, hypotonic.” In 1971, whiz-bang psychiatrist Zachary Busner attempts to revive her and other “enkies” by plying them with L-Dopa (an anti-Parkinson’s drug). A fleeting reawakening reveals jarring glimpses into Audrey’s past (a hardscrabble childhood in Edwardian England; a job at a WWI munitions factory; a raunchy love affair with a married man), with alternating flashbacks to the lives of her brothers Stan (a gunner in the war) and Bert (a puffed-up civil servant), and jumps forward to Busner in 2010 reminiscing about his past (a failed marriage; adultery; his mixed career). Lacking chapter breaks, paragraph separations (mostly), and hopping between these four characters’ stream-of-consciousness points of view, the already puzzling tome can be difficult to follow, let alone grasp. But with snippets of dialects, stylistic flourishes, and inventive phrases loose with meaning, for those who grab hold and hang on, the experience falls just shy of brilliant. Agent: Andrew Wylie, the Wylie Agency. (Jan.)
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