A welcome showcase of short (or shortish) fiction by quirky comic master Self (Liver: A Fictional Organ with a Surface Anatomy of Four Lobes, 2009, etc.).
Eccentric and learned, Self, as Rick Moody points out in his introduction, is a keen student of language, adept at switching registers from East End Cockney to Sloane aspiration and Oxbridge pomposity. Indeed, it seems safe to say that not since Dickens has any English writer been so interested in English sounds and the improbabilities of English orthography, whence one setting called Inwardleigh and another somewhere along the “Edgware Road/Maida Vale hinterland.” Of course, Dickens would not have imagined a post-Kafkaesque correspondence between the bugs and other creepy-crawlies that dwell in a Suffolk cottage and its hapless owner: As they inform him, they don’t have much of a choice in the matter in this grim world, but instead enter “because in the normal course of things there is usually some carrion within which we can deposit our eggs,” to say nothing of the cleaning services they offer in this “flytopia.” Self sometimes operates on the edge of science fiction, but in a J.G. Ballard sort of way; he may write of “emotos” and “procros,” but at the same time he is interested in the all-too-human, in “vast vaginas” and acne so florid as to recall the “Grand Canyon at sunset.” Though seldom meta or self-referential, many an aspiring writer will recognize corners of Self’s imagined worlds, as when he puts one earnest creative-writing instructor inside a prison (“they may have all been sex offenders, but despite that they managed to exemplify the three commonest types of wannabe writer”) and proposes a new genre of writing called Motorway Verse, helped along by lashings of “kaolin and morphine.” Each story is a pleasure, and most are occasions to head to the dictionary or encyclopedia and learn a thing or two.
A powerful argument against selflessness, a treat for fans and a grand introduction for those new to the author’s curious view of the universe.