Umbrella by Will Self

Umbrella by Will self

English fiction in modernist style

2012

source – review copy

Now I was a fan of Self’s early books having read grey area,my idea of fun ,the book of Dave amongst a few but its been six years since I ve read him the last book was the book of Dave .So when there was a lot of interested in his new book Umbrella ,which takes its title from a James Joyce quote I decide maybe it was time to go back and see what had change with Will Self since I last read him .Will self is london based writer and was in the 1993 Granta new writer list .He is well-known in the uk for his frequent media appearances in the UK on tv .He has published nine novel and eight short story collections and numerous books of non-fiction .

A brother is an easily forgotten as an umbrella

– James Joyce

opening the book this quote is a puzzle by the end you get it !!!

 

So umbrella ,I was looking forward to this book then I saw some people didn’t like it and other had struggled with it .This is Self’s take on modernism but we should be shocked I feel Self has played with styles all his writing life great apes was a Swiftian novel a bit like Guliver travels a man wakes in an environment where he is the odd one out  and Dorian was a tribute to Oscar Wilde  with a modern retelling of the picture of Dorian Grey .So this time he is tinkering with Modernism but is it a copy or is he bring it kicking and screaming into the 21st century well I m going go with the second of those views he has updated the Modernist style .So the book itself is mainly about the De’ath family (which after hearing an  interview recently with  Self is partly based from research he had done into his own family ) anyway the main character from this family in the book is Audrey De’ath we see here in the 1920 but she ends up with the sleeping sickness that spread the world at this time ,left her like a fly caught in amber alive but not interacting with the world as she is motionless and thus is really a person caught out of time anyway the second of many storylines in this book sees the return of one of Self’s favourite character Dr Zack Busner (Self said in the same interview I heard he keeps returning to this character because of his interest in psychiatry and the working of the brain ) .So what connects there two is that Busner is working with Audrey in the 1970’s in one of the old asylums to unlock her from her state .Now I ve not read or seen the film but supposedly this is a similar thing to the book from Oliver Sacks where he helped people with the same condition as Audrey .Elsewhere we see the world war via Audrey brother who is on the frontline .We also meet Busner in the here and now looking back on what happened in the seventies .

Miss Dearth ….Miss Dearth ? She doesn’t respond but she hears ,oh yes she does .They go on and repeat the same procedure for the three male guinea pigs ,who are found becalmed in their back water of the mens dormitory .Busner has charged Inglis with ensuring that all of them are got every morning cleaned and dressed and shaved .She was sarcasm itself :Ooh ,par-don ,Doc-tor ,but you want me to pre-tend dey goin’ onna Journey ? her hands on her hips ,her breast proud ,a reddy flush in her cheeks .Busner though bitterly,was her go-slow ever called off ?

as you see time drifts and it is hard to pin .

 

Now I like some modernist writers anyone that reads this blog Know I m a huge Henry Green fan one of the best modernist writers but also like James Joyce but never quite got Woolf  and yes in places he has feel of all  these writer are in there but also a large part of Self and his earlier works ,it has a stream of consciousness style to the narrative and a jumpy style where he starts in the 1920’s and some how ends the sentence in the 1970’s or now  ,I liked this it is like a core sample you sometimes see in a museum  instead of sticking throughout with years and layers of time  and going between them ,Self has taken a core sample and driven the narrative through time this can be initially quite disturbing too me as a reader, but after a time you get use to it and I always feel as a reader you need to be pushed to the limit  .There was a punctuation tick Self  uses  that did really annoy me at the start and it was the constant use of a … here there and everywhere but after a time this blended into the narrative and I noticed it less ,also like Joyce did he makes up words by sticking ends onto them so we get toothpasting this is a very Joycean thing to do in fact I follow a twitter feed  a Joyce fan that is listing all his inventive verbs for Finnegans wake .I enjoyed this book a lot more than other people it seems I ve now heard Self is planning to writer two further books so this is just the start of his modernist era or should that be neo modernist I feel he has paid homage to Joyce ,Woolf and Green but also thrown in enough of his style to make this feel like the beginning of a new style .This is one of three booker shortlisted books I ve read and this is just second on my list so far but I could see it winning the booker prize .It was a welcome return for me to a writer I used to enjoy a lot but had drifted away from .

Have you read this book ?

Do you like new takes on modernism ?

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Max Cairnduff
    Oct 08, 2012 @ 16:01:52

    I haven’t read it, but probably shall. I remain very sympathetic to modernism, and agree with Josipovici that it’s not a historical movement but rather a perpetual challenge to narrative. My main fear here is pastiche, but since Self seems to be genuinely trying to grapple with the challenge of modernism that’s not much of a fear.

    Reply

  2. JoV
    Oct 08, 2012 @ 18:55:23

    I am not sure about modernist but I’m willing to give it go. Thanks for the review.

    Reply

  3. Lisa Hill
    Oct 09, 2012 @ 07:02:58

    I had no plans to read any of the Booker shortlist, but I’ve changed my mind. THis one sounds very interesting. Thanks, Stu:)

    Reply

  4. parrish lantern
    Oct 09, 2012 @ 07:36:29

    Have enjoyed several of his books including the Book of Dave, so this is one I’m interested in.

    Reply

  5. Chinoiseries
    Oct 10, 2012 @ 17:34:44

    After reading quite a few reviews of this book, I still can’t make up my mind whether to read it or not. I’m not really a fan of modernist lit, that is the main problem I think. Great review though!

    Reply

  6. Violet
    Oct 12, 2012 @ 01:02:04

    I’ve never been able to read anything by Self, but I might give this a try when (if!) the library gets a copy. I like Modernist lit, so it may be a bit more to my taste than his other books. He’s an interesting man though.

    Reply

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