England in the future and (mostly) underwater is the post-apocalyptic setting for the brazen Brit author’s ambitious dystopian satire.
The title story, one of two energetically detailed narratives, is the “text,” written, in 2000, more in anger than in sorrow, by London cabdriver Dave Rudman, whose wife Michelle has fled their rickety marriage, remarried and kept Dave from seeing their son Carl. Dave’s mad, self-justifying, misogynistic “memoir,” which he buries in the backyard of Michelle’s new home, takes on a vivid extended life more than 500 years later, when it’s excavated, fervently embraced as a sacred text and used as a template by a rigidly structured society in which parents live apart and children are shuttled between them during designated “Changeovers.” This stripped-down future, after rising sea levels have turned Britain into hundreds of tiny islands (e.g., that of “Ham,” formerly Hampstead, where Michelle’s family now live), stimulates both Self’s abrasive genius for elaborating ingenious premises in mordantly funny detail (Great Apes, 1997), and his maddening tendency to beat every idea to death (How the Dead Live, 2000). In the 2500s, the practice of “Davinity” (i.e., worship of Dave) is expressed in the language (derived from his chaotic book) of Arpee, specifically the dialect of Mokni—of which numerous brilliant examples are given, and minimal interpretation is supplied in a brief concluding glossary. Much of this is superb, but a byzantine plot involving the son (another Carl) of a “heretic” who opposed Davinity and preached the equality of the sexes, is simply tedious. Though this edgy novel invites comparison with such contemporary classics as Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange and Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker, its anarchic vision of future shock is far less compelling than Dave’s own story of loss, grief, surrender to drug addiction and madness.
Thus, this is indeed divided: by turns acrid, funny and perversely moving, yet marred by sourness, shrillness and redundancy.