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 ?

Booker guessing 2012

Booker longlist 2012 guesses

Well I was in two minds about doing this two reasons I failed miserable last year and also I am much further away from the ebb and flow of what are the mover and shakers that are happening in English literary at this moment ,but I find twitter helps me keep up with what may be hot .I have had a love of the booker in my twenties when I read a lot of books from the lists ,so will use this years list as a guide to what I ll be buying in the next few months to read .I feel with Peter Stothard at the helm this year the list will be more to my taste than last years list .so I ll get my crystal ball out and give you my feeling for the longlist bakers dozen due out next week .

  1. Umbrella by Will Self – a change of direction for will in a way stream of consciousness writing this time but with a few familiar faces .I loved will’s early books and he should have been on a shortlist before now .
  2. Zoo time by Howard Jacobson his new one he won with his last and was writing this at the time an insight into publishing world through the novelist Guy Ableman .
  3. Capital by John Lancaster  the story of Pepys road a normal London street and via that street we see a cross-section of modern britain .as the street has all from the up and coming to the down and out 
  4. Bring up the bodies by Hilary Mantel The second part of the trilogy that started with the booker winner Wolf hall more of the life of Thomas Cromwell 
  5. Ancient light by John Banville an actor looks back at his teen years  in 50′s Ireland an illicit love affair in the fields and in the back of cars 
  6. Hawthorn and child by Keith Ridgway a couple of blogger been singing this ones praises .A middle-aged detective sorts through scatter clues an adventurous text they say ,Try Bolano I say 
  7. The casual vacancy by J K Rowling I know I may be off my head but it is her first adult book and set in an english village .I love book set in villages and would get people talking if it was there 
  8. Merivel A man of his time  by Rose Tremain ,she been on shortlists and maybe give Mantel a run for her money . Set in court of Charles II about the restoration man Robert Merivel a courtier and physician. 
  9. Pure Timothy Mo its been a long time since he had a book out over ten years I read one that made shortlist years ago be nice to see this book set in Thailand and dealing with Islam make the list 
  10. Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilaka a dying sportswriter tries to track the greatest cricketer in the world a spin bowler that disappeared .Mark of Eleutheropbia loved this one .
  11.  The Street sweeper by Eliot Perlman another that I know some blogs love ,Lisa from ANZ litlovers first drew my attention to it .an interwoven bunch of stories set in New York .
  12. All that I am by Anna Funder her first book stasiland was a prize winner and this is her first work of fiction set in 1933 follows a group of friends that have become outlaws due to hitler .
  13. well I going leave this blank can’t make mind up between Carey ,McEwan and strangely Amis (as TLS still seem to like him )

So what you think ?

Wonder how I will do this time ?

Trevor for booker

I ve long been a fan of the Irish writer William Trevor ,for those of you not familiar with him he is often called the irish Chekov ,Tim Adams of the observer said of him “widely believed to be the most astute observer of the human condition currently writing fiction .He has long been a booker bridesmaid with five nominations one long list in 2009 and four shortlists 1970 (Mrs Eckdorf in O’Neils hotel ),1976(The children of Dynemouth) ,1991(Reading Turgenev) ,2002(The story of Lucy Gault ).So rather than the Booker prize do what they did with the other booker bridesmaid Beryl Bainbridge and have a prize after she died why not honour the man whilst he is here I feel after the fuss this years prize caused say oh well we’ll stop for a year give it to William as a special one-off price for 2012 for the body of his work ,I would imagine many readers would be disappointed with this choice also it would honour William’s contribution to modern English literature he is a writer that has mixed Chekov, Maupassant short story talent with a touch of Irish tradition from Joyce and O’Connor with the English literature of Maugham and Greene .I love the booker I felt I gave the wrong impression last week it has led me to many good books ,my problem was with this year and recent years that I felt let down with the prize that has been dear to me .But never wanted to lessen the prize and I don’t think readability is dumbing down it is up to each of us what is readable .I felt near the prize being given some people went a little over the top with the vileness of the opinions and also the puppets that think these people are a sort of demi god of English literature !Any way if you think this is a good idea please write a post maybe if enough of us little people shout loud we can make the Horton’s of this world listen !!!! Please support this William Trevor is a writer that touches the soul !!

books ,booker ,literature prize ?

Well I stuck my nose in a conversation about the booker prize and the new prize announced this week as a counter to the booker ,now I view the new prize as a positive move the booker has been around unchallenged as the premier prize for literary fiction in the english speaking world for a long time ,so like most things that have had control of a market for a long time maybe it has got a little flabby at the waist and let its self go a bit and standards have dropped  .The new prize is in part a reaction to this years jury which in literary terms is a little lightweight and the choices of long list and shortlist have sparked much discussion on what the booker means in people’s eyes ,also a comment by the judge Chris Mullins in regards readability of the books he choose .I had long been a fan of the booker and have read many shortlisted booker books over years .

So what does the booker mean to me as a prize well I look at literary fiction a like Everest we maybe have to be like sir Edmund Hilary reach the peak  but then climbing didn’t stop and give up ,no but like all climbers we look for the new unclimbed peaks however hard ,or the new route up the mountain via a new path ,or a new way of climbing that maybe dangerous or innovative  and I think this metaphor works for the booker and reading for me in general I like to challenge myself . This is what reading  as the climbing metaphor  is ,not for climbing the same route or going to Ben Nevis and making out it is a hard as climbing Everest ! So that said what does this reader look for in his booker shortlists and winners well I ve a few things, and will use previous winners and shortlisters to show what I look for and why I think the prize has drifted of late as most of the books mention are pre 2003  -

 

Language 

I like a book that shows the bounds of the english languages and what can be done with it I perfect example would be James Kelman how late it was ,how late a book that showed the ability of language and regional accents a book wrote in a clear broad Glaswegian accent was it readable well if you were from Glasgow yes but otherwise it was a wonderful insight into how broken english can be shattered and remade in Scotland into a brutal but effective language that suits its setting .

Genre expanding  

Now I m going pick two books both works of magic realism the are Midnights children by Salman Rushdie  and Famished road by Ben Okri both winners in the 80′s They both approached the Magic realism genre in different ways Rushdie use it as a blueprint for the tale of modern India ,Okri as a way to open village life in Africa and Africa myths to the reader .Keneally Schindler’s ark also did same for biographical novels .#

sets a new mark 

I like books that when you read you can say that will be cited for years after as a turning point in fiction .I ve got a recent winner in mind Wolf hall I think even thou I didn’t really enjoy it ,I can see it being a book that has raised the bar on historic fiction and  will be the one the people say was a game changer and will be the one people read to get inspired to write historic fiction .

just talent 

Now some writers just oozes talent now around booker shortlist it is obvious who has influenced english literary fiction for years people like Beryl Bainbridge and William Trevor although neither won a booker both have had multiple short-listed books  over 20 plus years why because the constantly show the bounds of the English language Peter Carey and J M Coetzee have both won on more than one occasion and this  is due to there talent as writers both try to set a new path to follow  with each new  book and usually succeed in showing how you can be different even in the same field of fiction .

There are the things I look for in a winner books that try to climb Everest set new marks and leave me as a reader want more ,I think the rot set in with the booker in 2003 the short lists since then have been weaker that earlier ones so a new prize is welcome and well all be able to judge what difference it has made to the booker and what direction the new prize is set in .Although I must note it is a missed chance for a general prize for  literary fiction that also including translations   published within in a year .I personally think this hasn’t happened because it would show how much great fiction is coming to readers from outside the English speaking world !! that does all of what I state in the qualities of a booker winner and usually far better

What do you think ?

Booker longlist reaction

Well susan Hill had promised a fresh list of books for the longlist .But in my opinon what we got was ground shaking .Books new to most people ,the shock wave on twitter was noticable as people tried to find out more about the listed books ,also why the list was so different than peoples ideas of what shoulkd have been there .The fact smaller publishers have been picked is good thing in this modern age .

• Julian Barnes  The Sense of an Ending
• Sebastian Barry On Canaan’s Side
• Carol Birch Jamrach’s Menagerie
• Patrick deWitt The Sisters Brothers
• Esi Edugyan Half Blood Blues
• Yvvette Edwards A Cupboard Full of Coats
• Alan Hollinghurst The Stranger’s Child
• Stephen Kelman  Pigeon English
• Patrick McGuinness The Last Hundred Days
• AD Miller Snowdrops
• Alison Pick Far to Go
• Jane Rogers The Testament of Jessie Lamb
• DJ Taylor Derby Day

so there it is, of the titles I ve read none I have two on my tbr pile ,a quick trip to library yesterday came back blank .Some of them aren’t out yet thou  .From the list the ones that grab my eye are Patrick Mcguiness the last hundred days set in the dying days of the Ceauceaus regime in Romania from the small publisher seren ,snowdrops Andrew miller set in Russia a thriller about a young Englishman struggling with the temptations of new Russia .I ve sister brother and strangers child on tbr ,I m not sure what others I will read maybe wait to see what makes shortlist .Is this shake up of longlist a good thing ,in some ways as there are a number of smaller publishers on the list ,but you have to question why so many people got so few books that are on the list right .Are we seeing the depth of English writing or a small choice by five judges set on shaking the booker order  for the sake of it ? I don’t know the answer as many of you know I am more interested in translations and world lit ,but always look at the booker as the barometer of what is good or interesting in English at the moment .so in that respect I think they have got it wrong and a good few books have missed out on the longlist .

What are your thoughts ?

Did the booker need shaking up ?

 

my booker predictions 2011

well tomorrow we find out who has made the longlist of the man booker prize 2011 .I was going do this earlier this evening but 2 hour power cut meant unable to blog so I ll fly through the book I ve heard about and reviews I ve seen over last few months ,so  i ll give you a baker’s dozen -

At last – by Edward St Aubyn -

the latest in the partrick Melrose series to pay respects to his mother and another look other his past .

Strangers child by Alan Hollinghurst -

two poets lives and works tracked from 1912 to present day a look at what being a poet means and how history decides what there poems mean .

Wish you were here by Graham swift -

jack deals with his brother’s death in Iraq a look at modern english lives .

The girl in the polka dots dress by Beryl Bainbridge -

A girl from Kentish Town heads in 1968 to the cauldron of the US with Martin Luther King dying ,maybe one last chance for Beryl hey .

Pure by Andrew Miller -

Set in 1785 a young man must clear an old cemetery whilst watching his own back .slightly different hope it makes list one that appeals to me .

Last man in the tower by Aravinda Adiga -

a building needs to be cleared in Bombay but there is one man stopping this as old and new india clash .

Waterline By Ross Rasin

well I ve heard Joe from Penguin go on about this book ,as a friend of my father owned a shipyard this one appeals to me ,it is about Mick his journey out of the shipyards ,about love and loss .

The forgotten waltz by Anne Enright  -

Gina has a love affair with Sean ,passion desire and memories all crop up in this book it seems .set in Dublin ,has to be a Irish writer on booker list .

 

Other people’s money by Justin Cartwright  -

the fall of a family owned private bank told from two generations point of view ,Justin sold this to me when I heard a radio interview ,seems to catch the spirit of the time a bit .

We had it so good by Linda Grant -

I think every blog review of this book has been positive ,set in 1968 it follows middle class people over the next forty years ,through main character Stephen an American living in Britain .

Cedilla by Adam Mars Jones -

The continuing story of John Cromer from his earlier book ,I ve this on my tbr pile like fact main character has a disability something you don’t often see in books .

London Triptych by Jonathan Kemp -

three mens lives and affairs in 50′s london against a backdrop of a gay underground and art world .This sounds different to me when I read a few reviews .

Embassytown by China Mieville -

Well I ve put this on as I m feed up of the whining from sci-fi readers that he misses the list year after year and the fact it does sounds like a great read ,an alien world humans modify to communicate with the life form on the planet .It seems to be about our lives using the alien world as a tool for our world and its problems .

SO WHAT DO YOU THINK BE THERE ?

WHAT YOU MAKE OF MY CHOICES ?

 

 

 

THE BOOKER WINNER IS ….

Well the telegraph light up a minute ago and with a dash ,dash and a dot dot the 1910 booker winner was announced and sent to Winston towers down the wires .well shock of shocks the favourite the history of mr Polly by Wells has lost ,and the winner is Howard’s end ,a wonderful book about class ,this new group in the capital called Bloomsbury based round the Bloomsbury area of london ,centre on the Woolf’s .The book follows three families and there different social standings .A great and worthy winner for booker 1910 .

Also in the club on the paper table I read the Manchester Guardians Not the booker winner for 1910 ,their young feature chap Samuel Jordison runs this the readers write in with a book that missed the cut and the chaps at the guardin=an add it up and make a shortlist and announce the winner the same day as the booker winner and this time it is a truly worthy winner clayhanger by Arnold Bennett ,this story and coming of age of Edwin Clayhanger set in Arnold’s hometown of stoke and the five towns around it ,he was quoted as saying well at least my northern friends recognise me ,having missed booker cut this time .

now I look a hundred years hence and may see a book called C by Tom Mccarhthy winning maybe .

C BY TOM McCarthy

This is my second booker shortlist read this year ,Tom McCarthy is considered the next big thing in british lit and this book as very technically clever .Well I enjoyed it ,at times found it very hard going .The book centres on the life of Serge Carafax a young man born on the cusp of a new century the twentieth century ,he is born ,to a family working at a deaf school,he soon becomes fascinated by the new technologies that are appearing and becomes a expert in radio and electrical equipment this sends him through the main events in the first few decades of the twentieth century ,he loves the planes in the first world war and ends up getting caught and made a prisoner and at a prisoner of war camp getting involved in escape plans and caring for his fellow prisoners ,post war he ends up in the swinging twenties of london and the drug scene ,then becomes a wireless operator for what was the internet of its day as it was a   front row technology of the day and led many a young man like Serge to the far-flung corners of what was the British empire then ,well that is the simple overview of the book .but this book is like a cryptic crossword each page has layers and meanings ,there is a great deal of symbolism about technology and its place in society,war drugs ,travel many things cleverly woven .McCarthy has firmly placed himself in the top echelons of British writers .

The static’s like the sound of thinking .Not any single person thinking ,collectively ,It’s bigger than that, wider – and more dialect .It’s like the sound of thought itself,its a hum and rush .Each night ,when Serge drops in on it ,it recoils with a wail ,then rolls back to the crackling waves that carry him away ,all rudderless ,untill his fingers nudging the dial , can get some traction on it at all ,

opening of chapter 3 shows Serges connection with radios and there workings .

I m not going say I got this book completely I d be lying, it is a book that maybe takes a couple of readings to break its shell completely but as my first reading I loved it ,echos of Pychon and Bolano as it says on the cover maybe even early Ballard in places .If it wins the booker it will be a worthy winner . This is my last of the shortlisted reads ,Did have Finklers question from library but they wanted it back ,so will read at a later date .

DID YOU LIKE THIS BOOK ?

WHO DO YOU THINK WILL WIN THE BOOKER THIS YEAR ?


booker shortlist !

well the booker been announced and here are the 4 shortlisted books for the booker ,and what a bunch they are sure see a rush in sales for them .

HOWARDS END BY E M FORSTER

A story of a family the fourth novel from this up and coming writer ,his last room with a view was shortlist for the booker but only made shortlist .is the bookies favourite at moment !

THE HISTORY OF MR POLLY BY H G WELLS

A comic novel by the past booker winner ,we follow Alfred Pollys story in this funny novel

P SMITH IN THE CITY BY P G WODEHOUSE

An interesting character from Wodehouse a new young novelist with a grand hand at comic writing ,all about mike and psmith also a dollop of cricket thrown in for a good turn .

PRESTER JOHN  BY JOHN BUCHAN

A novel about david crawfords adventures in spouthern africa during the recent zulu uprisng a novel about our empire ,the judges said

Well  thats the booker 1910 shortlist what do you think ?

will these books stand the test of time ?

The beautiful screaming of pigs by Damon Galgut

DAMON GALGUT

Notes -

Damon Galgut is one of South Africa’s leading writers with a number of books after being published  at 17  in 1980 with a sinless season ,this is his third novel and won the C.N.A South Africa’s leading literary prize ,He has also been shortlisted for the booker in 2003 with the good doctor ,he has also written several plays .

The book -

The book revolves around Patrick Winter and his two visits to South West Africa the first as a solider ,and secondly with his mother who has recently got divorced  ,the second visit his mother is visiting Godfrey her new lover a black swapo activist ,still a taboo at the time in South africa ,we also discover that Patrick had a great love on his first posting to South West Africa ,we are lead to belive this may have been a male love ,there is a funeral of a white activist from swapo that was killed ,the themes  are love discovery ,change and new beginnings in this book .

My view -

This is an amazing book for its short length ,and tackles the changing face of Southern Africa in the early nineties ,the breaking of long-held taboos and love between couples and a mother and son ,I read this book after some one  on twitter recommend his new book but at the library it wasn’t there but this wonderful book was ,this book made me think as i work with a colleague from Nambia which is what south-west africa is now called ,and was also a great counter point to the purple violets of Oshaantu ,which i read after this book .

Links -

An  interview with damon galgut

Questions -

Have you read any South African writers ?

Have you read Damon Galgut ?

 .

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