SHARK by Will Self


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A hallucinatory, maddening, difficult novel by the shape-shifting Self (Umbrella, 2013, etc.), who dons his best Pynchon-esque finery.

It’s not a screaming that comes across the sky, not exactly, but instead a chunking guitar that herald’s Self’s opening: “owowwow-owww! the clawed chord howls in the hallway and tears up the stairs.” It’s the tail end of the 1960s, the day four kids are being shot down in Ohio, and over in tony London, a psychiatrist, for reasons that are not entirely clear, decides to test the therapeutic possibilities of lysergic acid on his own bad self. Time slips away, and so do the niceties of syntax, until some hundreds of pages later he begins to latch hold of his trip: “Lost in the curdled depths of the Labrador’s mild-brown eyes, Zack isn’t shocked by this hallucination, instead rather admires the dog’s American accent.” But more is afoot than just a lava-lamp swirl: During the proceedings, truths are unfolding about the century past in the jagged confessions of two haunted residents, one a survivor of the shark-doomed Indianapolis, which before sinking had carried the atomic bomb across the Pacific to the waiting Enola Gay, the other a witness to the obliteration of Hiroshima. The clash of “disabled ex-servicemen” and “bloody hippies” is obvious, as is the presence, perhaps real and perhaps imagined, of a malevolent German (“[v]ery gutt patientz, the Kraut soothes, ve-ery nize patientz”), but the whole enterprise collapses in a meltdown of ellipses and em dashes until we’re not quite sure where we are in the proceedings. Self’s presentation is too clever by half, and though undeniably artful, it’s a chore for readers: The book seems destined for cult status, to be sure, but it’s hard to imagine even the most die-hard of Gravity’s Rainbow fans warming up to this one.

Puzzling and ponderous but never predictable—very much in line with Self’s trajectory thus far, in other words.

Pub Date: Nov. 4th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-8021-2310-7
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Grove
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2014


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