Former leading New Zealand publisher and bookseller, and widely experienced judge of both the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Montana New Zealand Book Awards, talks about what he is currently reading, what impresses him and what doesn't, along with chat about the international English language book scene, and links to sites of interest to booklovers.
Thursday, August 16, 2012
Umbrella by Will Self: review
Lucy Daniel exults in Will Self's lavish Man Booker longlisted Umbrella.
Will Self's Umbrella has been longlisted for the Man Booker PrizePhoto: Andrew Crowley
By Lucy Daniel - The Telegraph - 15 August 2012
In 1918, Audrey Death, a clever young woman involved with suffragettes, socialism and free love, succumbs to Encephalitis lethargica, the epidemic which killed nearly a million people after the First World War, and left untold numbers confined to mental institutions. Audrey is one of the latter, and her mind’s wanderings in her catatonic state constitute one strand of this absorbing novel. The disease and his treatment of it with the new drug L-dopa were the subject of Oliver Sacks’s Awakenings, and Umbrella’s plot resembles Awakenings fed through various warping filters.
The novel, which is on the Man Booker Prize longlist, sees the reappearance of the psychiatrist Zack Busner, a familiar Sacks-type figure known from Self’s earlier fiction, who in the Seventies administers the L-dopa to Audrey and other sufferers, causing them to miraculously awaken from their 50-year stupor. In 2010, Busner remembers and tries to make sense of what happened.
The narrative, which has no breaks or chapters, moves between these strands without warning, in subtle shifts that occur from one sentence to the next. Each leap jolts the reader unexpectedly out of kilter. Having been submerged in one consciousness, we emerge to find ourselves, like the awakening patients, suddenly in a different age, an altered state of mind.
The novel’s epigram is taken from Joyce’s Ulysses: “A brother is as easily forgotten as an umbrella”, and it is both a homage to and an engagement with modernist fiction of the Twenties. Patients experience their catatonia as a terrible form of “continuous present”, a term used by Gertrude Stein to describe her processing of experience through words, while Busner’s observations are filtered through his “camera I”, recalling the “camera eye” which records events in John Dos Passos’s USA trilogy. Full review at The Telegraph