cover image Phone


Will Self. Grove, $27 (624p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2537-8

In the hefty stream-of-consciousness conclusion to Self’s ambitious trilogy (Umbrella, Shark), disconnected narratives collide, bringing long-hidden secrets to light. Zachary Busner, a retired psychiatrist, embarks on a spiritual journey that requires him to come to terms with the Alzheimer’s blurring his reality. Despite his criticism of modern technology’s emphasis on data-gathering, he carries a constantly ringing smartphone with him, programmed by his autistic, technology-adept grandson to provide him with an illusion of continued independence. Meanwhile, Jonathan De’Ath, a British intelligence officer who goes by the moniker “The Butcher,” falls in love and pursues a furtive long-term relationship with a handsome, closeted soldier named Gawain. As Gawain rises through the army ranks and Jonathan’s carefully kept records of their phone booth conversations and remote bed-and-breakfast liaisons build, they weigh the consequences of keeping their affair hidden. Self’s densely cerebral prose leaps between narratives, disregarding linear storytelling and paragraph breaks in favor of extended musings that are often intelligent and periodically insightful. It’s less than subtle, however, in how heavily it hammers home messages about the dehumanizing impacts of war, screen-based communication, and psychological wounds that have never fully healed. But then again, Self hasn’t built his career on subtlety. Agent: Jeffrey Posternak, The Wylie Agency. (Jan.)