The Sweet Smell of Psychosis: A Novella

Will Self, Author, Martin Rowson, Illustrator Grove Press $11 (96p) ISBN 978-0-8021-3647-3
British author Self (Cock & Bull; My Idea of Fun) is notorious for extremes of debauchery, and in his newest tale of one man's descent into vice and excess he teams up with political cartoonist Rawson, who provides sinister, nightmarish illustrations. This novella turns an innocent loose in the wicked city, London, refreshing a plot in essence as old as Petronius, and infusing it with Self's now nearly formulaic sex-and-drugs drollery. The innocent du jour is Richard Hermes, who has left a homely old northern city and a ""homey, suety"" girlfriend to Make It in London's media scene. That scene's center is the notorious news/media celebrity called, simply, Bell, who holds court at the Sealink Club, ""a dark, humid environment in which fungal tittle-tattle could swell overnight."" Richard is in love with an habitu of Bell's set, Ursula Bently. Ursula is maddeningly sexy, world weary, and semiaddicted to whatever is going about. Richard's problem is that Bell's group, which cavorts around late night London, stopping in at opium dens and preening themselves in mirrors, is impinging disastrously on his health, moral sense and career. While the faint scent of Ursula's perfume, Jicki, is driving Richard mad with lust, Bell seems just to be driving Richard mad: he keeps seeing the hateful Bell's face on other people. Slowly, Richard makes inroads on Ursula's affections until finally he holds her naked in his arms. Of course, things go surrealistically wrong from that point on. This short book, while capped off with a somewhat stunted punchlinelike ending, will nevertheless provide readers with a mini-overdose of Self's signature detached licentiousness. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 08/09/1999
Release date: 08/01/1999
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