LIVER by Will Self


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Scabrous Self (The Butt, 2007, etc.) devotes four stories to the four lobes of the eponymous organ, which by turns decays, regenerates, is fattened and eaten live.

Wit, furious energy, an idiosyncratic intellect and ornate, often strong language mark this British writer’s darkly offbeat fiction, here divided into three short and one novella-length, very loosely connected tales. “Foie Humain” begins as a masterly fictional portrait of one of London’s celebrated bohemian drinking circles, the Soho Colony club, gathering place for a group of alcoholic grotesques. But the tale progresses into something rather different, an unearthly combination of horror and gourmandism. Much longer and more realistic, “Leberknödel” tracks Joyce Beddoes, a liver-cancer sufferer, traveling to Zurich accompanied by her none-too-lovable daughter with the purpose of assisted suicide. But Joyce can’t bring herself to drink the poison and soon, amazingly, finds herself healed. With its more intimate and humane portrait of aging, this narrative contrasts well with the harsh satire elsewhere, though it weakens in its resolution. “Prometheus” achieves something akin to literary CGI in its clever, slick meld of myth and modern advertising. “Birdy Num Num,” a parade of addicts, prostitutes and the terminally ill, narrated by a virus, attempts to pull the volume together but is in fact the least satisfactory and most repetitive of a quartet in which stylistic innovation and ideas sometimes triumph over form and finish.

Brilliant and blistering, when not overinfatuated with addiction or in undisciplined pursuit of flights of fancy—an intermittently dazzling collection from a restless talent.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-59691-664-7
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2009


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