Kirkus Reviews QR Code


Disentangling the Modern Conundrum of Psyche and Place

by Will Self & illustrated by Ralph Steadman

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2007
ISBN: 978-1-59691-466-7
Publisher: Bloomsbury

Self (The Book of Dave, 2006, etc.) walks, and as he walks, he spins the shambling, freely associative web of a drunken spider.

But this is the intoxicant-free Self, though his mind and prose are still on fire. Before his pen gets to business, his legs are doing the work, “parting and marrying, parting and marrying…needle-limbs piercing and repiercing the fabric of reality.” He is drinking from the personality of a place, tucking into the effects of geography on the emotions, turning states into states of mind, trip lines to memory, dreams and reflections. The interzones are what he conjures best: neglected and unimagined places like those along the walk from his London home to Heathrow and then from New York’s JFK airport into Manhattan. It is a closely observed ramble, from the “damp tongue of leaf-pressed tarmac snaking through the grass” that leads him to Heathrow, to the old and new provocations of New York’s unprepossessing neighborhoods. He shapes a gestalt “compounded of place, progress and Weltanschauung,” finding umbilical linkages between distant and unique places: Gaudí’s La Sagrada Familia strikes him as the Lolita of sacred architecture. Self seems to have been everywhere, each place calling up his days of youth—phantasmagoria and bitter debauch—rendered evermore bizarre by Steadman’s spattered, spooky artwork. As he bounces about in memory’s halls, Self is also in the moment, on a quest for ambulatory satori. If enlightenment is not always within reach, he flashes with insights regarding the role of London’s riot-friendly squares in generating the world’s oldest representational government, the lemony light of a perfect autumn morning, the difficulty of finding cheese in the English Midlands. “You’ll have to go to Iceland,” says “an ancient crone of the diocese.” No doubt he will.

An effulgent album of insubordinate, psychogeographical postage stamps: colorful, crowded and transporting.