cover image Great Apes

Great Apes

Will Self. Grove/Atlantic, $24 (416pp) ISBN 978-0-8021-1617-8

The usual charges of misanthropy against Self (My Idea of Fun) don't quite apply to this over-the-top evolutionary satire, since it is populated entirely by chimpanzees. The only partial exception is Simon Dykes, the now-divorced avant-garde artist first met in the short story ""InclusionR"" (published in the collection Grey Area), Self's surreal takeoff on the effects of antidepressant pharmaceuticals. After a night of joyless hedonism, hard drugs and intimate carnality with his Sloane Ranger consort, Sarah, Simon wakes up believing himself human in a world of chimps. That is, he finds it unnatural to use gestures rather than speech to communicate, to accept his alpha's admonitory blows, to put up with social grooming or to mate publicly or endogamously. Only the radical alpha-psychiatrist Zack Busner, a simian Oliver Sacks with a dash of R.D. Laing (from Self's The Quantity Theory of Insanity and ""InclusionR""), is prepared to try to return him to chimpunity. During Simon's gradual simianization, Self's sense of humor goes for baroque in scatological satire of anthropology, psychology, semiotics and philosophy. London journalism, the trendy art world, animal rights and ""human"" decency are all sent up with brio. Great Apes takes these metaphoric monkeyshines as far as they can go, which is just about the end of the novel. Finally, Simon travels to Africa to search for his vanished middle child, Simon Jr., the missing link to his humanity. Although this human-ape quest ends in anticlimax, Simon's pitiful alienation among Self's updated Yahoos (Jonathan Swift meets Jane Goodall) is one of his funniest, and perversely touching, jests yet. 30,000 first printing; $50,000 ad/promo; author tour. (Sept.)