cover image The Book of Dave

The Book of Dave

Will Self, . . Bloomsbury, $24.95 (495pp) ISBN 978-1-59691-123-9

Self, the provocative British raconteur who used the Tibetan Book of the Dead to map London (How the Dead Live , 2000) is taking another literary shot across his home city's bow. In his gleaming new puzzlebook, Self creates a dystopian future London, ruled by a cynosure of priests, lawyers and the monarchy. He invents Arpee, the musical language they speak that is based on a sacred text—The Book of Dave —which also serves, satirically, as the society's moral and legal foundation. And who is this deity named Dave? An embittered London cabbie from the distant past—the year 2000.

As the book opens, the kingdom of Ingerland is ruled by the elite and ruthless PCO. (Self is riffing on the Public Carriage Office, London's transit authority.) People live according to The Book of Dave , which was recovered after a great flood wiped out London in the MadeinChina era. Flashing back more than 500 years, cabbie Dave Rudman types out his idiosyncratic, misogynist, bile-tinged fantasies while in a fit of antidepressant-induced psychosis and battling over the custody of his child, Carl. His screed becomes both a blueprint for a harsh childrearing climate (mummies and daddies living apart, with the kids splitting time between them) and a full-blown cosmology.

As Self moves between eras, he divides the book between Dave's story and the story of the great Flying (slang in the future for "heresy"). The latter involves the appearance of the Geezer (prophet) on the island of Ham (Hampshire) in 508 A.D. (after the "purported discovery of the Book of Dave "), who claims to have found a second Book of Dave annulling the "tiresome strictures" of the first. He is imprisoned by the PCO and mangled beyond recognition, but, 14 years later, his son, Carl Dévúsh, travels from Ham to New London, determined to create a less cruel world that responds to the "mummyself" within.

Self's invention of a future language (including dialect Mokni, which combines cabby slang, cockney and the Esperanto of graffiti—and, yes, a dictionary is provided) is wickedly brilliant, with surprising moments of childlike purity punctuating the lexicon's crude surface (a "fuckoffgaff" is a "lawyerly place," while "wooly" means sheep). Self is endlessly talented, and in crossbreeding a fantasy novel with a scorching satire of contemporary mores, he's created a beautiful monster of the future that feeds on the neurotic present—and its parents. (Nov.)