epub pdf UmbrellaAuthor Will Self – Papercuts.co

My first review was a bit harsh, so here s the new version edited after I had time to distance myself I am not the best reader, but Umbrella was really hard to read Run on sentences and giant page long paragraphs I spent 5 hours on the first 100 pages and a mere 3 on the remaining 300 Conceptually I was looking forward to the novel and I really tried to invest time to follow the story I like stories that span generations, world war 1, mental illness, and regret Parts I understood were good, I wanted to like this like Busner wanted L DOPA to be wonder drug I did like what I could understand, but it won t have a wide audience, which for the hidden plot and story is a bit of a shame. There s a rumble in a Brighton bright Lit bulb fried dust aromatics for your lifestyle no matter the wattage to The Council not Style always a dim Heaven 17 er assymetrical do gone as ReagancrossThatch doomed as rent rooms to shriek a Being Boiled I DON T UNDERSTAND THIS FUCKING BOOK or so Frankie say It s not because there are no chapters and so very few paragraphs and dialog attributions it s not because the point of view shifts from one person s to another, decades later or before, in the middle of a sentence it s not because of the generous and seemingly arbitrary use of italics it s not because of the stream of consciousness style where the nagging repetitions of song lyrics surface between random sights during a drive at night or the edges of ideas blur against lush accidental memories The problems the Brit specific details, the slang s , the legions of Proper Names enrolled as adjectives and labels larger than themselves doing some double cultural duty I cannot discern I then have two choices make the stream of Self s stream of consciousness into something quite unstreamlike and stop to Google each reference, or stay in the stream and quickly jot each note for later research, when I am sure I will, once learning what was being referenced, then struggle to remember the context Given how this book already is, it s not like that context is going to be easy to retrieve Neither of these options seem very close to any of even my nerdy ass concepts of literary pleasure But when he wants to, boyohboy can Will Self provide literary pleasure Some of his sentences are like good drugs, while others are like bad dreams, then there are the ones like amusement park rides or that rare experience of looking at something and not knowing what you are seeing until you do know He charges the unnoticed everywhere like water is to fish nature of language until it sizzles and, contra how so much capital L Lit is taught, it feels like it might even be bad for you In the fun way But I fret will the hangover have been worth it I adored The Book of Dave my first somehow I had never managed to delve into Selfhood before that, and I got than my time s worth without realizing there was a glossary in the back until I was finished so I ll give it of a chance than I d ordinarily accord to a book so larded up with obscure references and arcane vocab Ok, actually, I dig the vocab, but I do kinda wish it had a glossary in the back.In an interview on npr I heard Self defend his modernist approach and it surprised me by being so patently wrong This is not a matter of opinion He said that he wanted to write something that wasn t lodged in your conventional third person omniscient point of view But the narrator tells us Busner did this, Audrey did that, and we read what they and most other characters think Hate to be pedantic but isn t that the very definition of third person omniscient You can see why I was surprised, but I m even surprised that most of the complaints about its difficulty are, as far as I ve heard and read, about the stream of consciousness style, the inventive punctuation, the lack of chapters and dearth of indention when he did cut the ongoing block into a paragraph I did wonder why there, and all these experimental cutting edge techniques that are coming up on their hundredth birthday Why would presumably educated and cultured people act like the reason they find it difficult is because of old ass modernist techniques instead of how those of us across the pond don t know what the fuck he s talking about and still wouldn t if the style were straight up BBC I feel a touch guilty for reviewing a book I m still standing in but I had to post this before I knew what I think, wondering if I ll wade on Sentences like this sure make me want to Edit I ve finished it, and want to re read it Regarding a groovy 60s party scene Was it Busner who had been time travelled here from a past as jarringly austere as his test card patterned sports jacket and drip dry tie, or, to the contrary, they who had been op art spiralled from a pre industrial opium dream of foppery and squalor A Brother Is As Easily Forgotten As An Umbrella James Joyce, Ulysses Recently Having Abandoned His RD Laing Influenced Experiment In Running A Therapeutic Community The So Called Concept House In Willesden Maverick Psychiatrist Zack Busner Arrives At Friern Hospital, A Vast Victorian Mental Asylum In North London, Under A Professional And A Marital Cloud He Has Every Intention Of Avoiding Controversy, But Then He Encounters Audrey Dearth, A Working Class Girl From Fulham Born In Who Has Been Immured In Friern For Decades A Socialist, A Feminist And A Munitions Worker At The Woolwich Arsenal, Audrey Fell Victim To The Encephalitis Lethargica Sleeping Sickness Epidemic At The End Of The First World War And, Like One Of The Subjects In Oliver Sacks Awakenings, Has Been In A Coma Ever Since Realising That Audrey Is Just One Of A Number Of Post Encephalitics Scattered Throughout The Asylum, Busner Becomes Involved In An Attempt To Bring Them Back To Life With Wholly Unforeseen Consequences If you re into stuff like this, you can read the full review.Rarefied Heights Umbrella by Will Self Original Review, September 30th 2012 And people are entertained by different things Some people are entertained by cat videos Others are entertained by football or motor racing Others are entertained by mathematical or philosophical problems Others are entertained by jigsaw puzzles or their literary equivalents Others are entertained by sophisticated use of narrative technique Some people may be entertained by all of these they have rich mental lives, with varying sources of entertainment Excellent book one star off only because I found the story i.e Audrey s story very draining Combines avant garde structure with the highly evocative and emotionally involving, great sense of historical place time including working class characters less frequently found in historical fiction, and a political focus which is genuinely about its time not contrived to please the contemporary reader yet also of interest to modern sensibilities, a bawdy humour too rarely found with those politics, and seriously sharp pop cultural references that span the English London twentieth century.IMO best read when you are alert enough that the mind can process the book almost subconsciously, whilst the conscious approach is letting it wash over you For me, such things aren t always possible, so I get how this novel could seem very hard work for some My three different year tags show it took a few goes before I hit the right time to read the whole book In the spoiler tag is a load of guff I wrote in 2012 and which, although I m not overly fond of it now, a few people liked view spoiler My intermttent swooning over Will Self s journalism and radio and TV appearances began nearly two decades ago, and I tingled with anticipation the first time, some time in the early 2000 s, when I got my hands on a real whole fiction work of his But it was as if the brain fizzing, knicker dampening, sonorous voiced arrogant wanker had sent his rather less sexy, sparky and interesting twin brother along on the date instead, Sweet Valley High style Just enough in the vocabulary and subject matter was similar for a common upbringing to be apparent, but it was just not the same and I left early, comprehensively disillusioned Went off him for good as a crush in the months after writing this mixture of how he looks these days not comparing well to someone I knew IRL Still like much of his writing ideas though And it s been the same every damn time I ve read his fiction, hoping that it might somehow turn out different on this occasion At least with Kindle samples, there s no need to commit to many hours of a whole book if disappointment seems likely to ensue So when Mr WS s article on modernism set me a flutter all over again, here was the means to instant, gratis, gratification of that same old sceptical curiosity.Oh dear Already on the first page are Joycean slightly scatological stream of consciousness snippets which leave me with the same ennui as Will has just said he feels towards most conventional English prose fiction Deja vu ensues as Zack Busner again encounters of his psychiatric ward patients again Whilst Self s ego in the Guardian piece rails against the cosy routines of mainstream eng lit, I suspect his subconscious of trying its best to force out a nice little mental health based series of the James Herriot Gervase Phinn school Also, oh how I would love to see him write something which had nothing to do with London I understand the immersive allure of the city, really I do, but there are a lot of other places out here And the old childhood scenes, whilst not bad, seem so very much like My Mother Said I Never Should So once , nothing in that depressing category modern British literary fiction feels new to read for a few minutes yet again I thought Will Self might have the antidote, but it was just of his seductive snake oil I don t know how to create the real stuff myself, so I may as well bugger off and continue to read non fiction and foreign stories.But wait Whilst there aren t the fireworks of his non fiction prose here, it s not entirely valueless Anyone who s familiar with doctors as family members or friends or colleagues will recognise the way they contradict one another s professional approaches He makes me look up three words I d forgotten it s not the shock of the new a teensy splash in a puddle, perhaps, but it helps And sometimes the narrative flows in tune with real stream of consciousness not as forced and stylised as Joyce , projecting images and feelings than extracting laboured thoughts this is pleasing It s sort of tempting to read the whole book in the next few days and write one of the first proper online reviews this specious privilege would cost 11 But tonight, it s heavy stuff I don t think I can read it at a time when I m worried in case someone I care about ends up in a place like this And elderly hospitalised Audrey makes me think too much of the last months of my late grandmother There are times for stirring up ghosts, having a chat with them and a spot of gentle part exorcism over the tea leaves But right now I have a bad headache and a house full of material clutter to continue clearing, so this isn t it hide spoiler It s been ages since I had to be won over by a book if ever Typically I m won over already before I open the cover Whatever my system of second hand knowledge and magic words may be, however it is that sifts through the hype and the recommendations, I seem to mostly always get it right Sure, occasionally, I m not blown out of the water by a big book with a big reputation, but I m nearly always quite satisfied I can t get into reading so called one star books But Self s Umbrella sort of demanded that it have the chance to win me over I was already sold by the hype and by the reputation But then I started reading And I read words Whatever Not really sure, maybe life was too short, etc But one thing was quickly clear Self was writing something in someway that other novelists were not What he was doing was probably the same thing that caused me to be unsold rather quickly, the claim made on the flyleaf that Will Self takes up the challenge of Modernism and demonstrates how it and it alone can unravel new and unsettling truths about our world and how it came to be Which isn t true But anywho I read on because the point of reading a novel is to read something novel, even if, like Barth says about retracing our steps to find out where we are headed, that thing novel is already done and done away with Modernism may be dead, but it can always have new life breathed into it cf Habermas still breathing Enlightenment air So I was finally won over by page 200 But and so what I find is that I wasn t altogether only being cheeky when I rhetorically asked whether it ever be ethical to review a book one has read only once one is not really capable of so doing, at least for a book at the level of Umbrella On the other hand, some would say that a lifetime is only time enough to read one novel that some was a prof whose one novel was Don Quixote nicht schlecht but I d have to confess I suspect that principle would not apply to Umbrella, perhaps to Bottom s Dream, I m thinking, certainly to Ulysses and Rabelais and others which demand a life s sentence But all the same, I ll have Self please The Steven Moore Review 31Dec12 Warning Umbrella is what s known as a difficult novel If that sounds as appealing as a difficult pregnancy, stop reading now But if you enjoy challenges, in literature as well as life, read on because Umbrella, which was a finalist for this year s Booker Prize, is a virtuosic performance. There are three main narrative strands in Umbrella The first follows Zack Busner, a psychiatrist working in the 1970s at the huge Friern Mental Hospital near the Alexandra Palace in London He becomes fascinated by the brain disease encephalitis lethargica, and by one particular elderly patient who suffers from the condition Audrey Death was admitted to Friern when she was struck down by this disease in 1918 She is semi catatonic, able to walk but plagued by tics which overwhelm any natural movement, and incapable of normal speech Busner is convinced that somewhere trapped inside her body, Audrey s conciousness, and that of other sufferers of encephalitis lethargica, remains intact.The second strand follows Audrey from her childhood through to the onset of her disease This was my favourite part of the story and Will Self s descriptions of life in Victorian London were wonderful We also spend time with Audrey s brothers Stan, a sensitive young man whom we follow to the trenches in France and Albert, a highly intelligent but cold and calculating over acheiver The third strand of the story is set in the present day with Busner now an old man, living alone and haunted by his memories of Friern, which has now closed down and been converted into luxury flats.It all sounds quite simple and clear cut when I write it down in like this, but of course it isn t Will Self doesn t really do simple He dispenses with chapters and even paragraphs and the whole thing just runs on and on in a Joycian stream of consciousness He switches between the different time periods and viewpoints without warning, splicing them together often in a single sentence in a way that reminded me of a DJ mixing tracks Of course this gives the reader the very practical problem of having no natural breaks where you can go and make a cup of tea or indeed make any room in your life for anything but Umbrella Will Self demands your complete attention for as long as it takes and I felt totally engulfed by this novel, finally emerging after two days in a kind of stupor Not that I m complaining, but if you d like to read this too then you need to be prepared to set aside some serious time.Self writes about the sad, the angry, the sordid and the nasty, laying bare the innermost self of each character with no flatteries or allowances made His use of metaphor is just astonishing, he revels in obscure words and phrases, but his mind whirrs at such speed that I could read this book a hundred times and never quite catch it all Possibly the most important character in Umbrella is the hospital itself, cold and brooding, a nightmare place that reeks of despair and pain There s little of the humour you ll find in other Self novels, but that s quite appropriate with such dark subject matter.Umbrella made me feel as though I was just hanging on by my fingernails as the Will Self express roared along His vocabulary is, of course, amazing, and my dictionary didn t leave my side as I scrabbled along trying to understand every little thing and failing miserably Self is so unashamedly literary he makes me feel dull and stupid in comparison, which is unsettling but not necessarily a bad thing once in a while In fact, it s quite refreshing to find an author who just doesn t care about making a novel that will be accessible or have mass appeal He writes what he wants to write and if you can t keep up, tough There are people who will hate Umbrella members of the anti Will Self brigade who find him pretentious and verbose I can understand this viewpoint but I can t agree I genuinely think his mind works on another level to that of most people, and I had a metal picture of him writing this in his garret, fingers flying across the keyboard as they tried to keep up with his brain If you are prepared to put some effort in, Umbrella is hugely rewarding, and I definitely think it fulfils the criteria this year s Booker judges set of revealing on subsequent readings Is it a masterpiece Well, I don t feel in the least bit qualified to judge something like that, but I really think it might be. Will Self has always been one of those writers whose work I hear about His novels all sound tricksy, clever and comic three qualities I adore in fiction, and yet, somehow, I ve managed to avoid reading his fiction all these years This is not to say I ve not read his other work his occasional pieces in British newspapers have been interesting, insightful, if occasionally sending his readers to their dictionaries This later quality is often seen as a negative to the Self bashers why does he see fit to exclude the majority of his readers by using words not in common usage It s a crap question, and only an idiot would ask it That said, he is not going to win many over with his new novel, Umbrella, which will not only have them rooting out their dictionaries, but also their medical encyclopaedias This, as I see it, is a good thing Self has been very open about Umbrella He wanted to write a modernist novel for the twenty first century, to prove that the modernist tradition wasn t moribund and could still prove insightful He has succeeded totally in his intended aims Umbrella is a literary tour de force, undoubtedly Self s best novel I can make that claim without having read the others, because the sheer depth and range of this novel is vast and is utterly brilliant.It is an apparently difficult novel in construction It is stream of consciousness told without chapter breaks, almost no paragraph breaks, no speech marks and run on sentence it has scenes that switch characters, time and location, sometimes within a paragraph and over 400 pages of it You hear this, you think it will be tough to read It really isn t I found Umbrella flew past, that I followed its shifts with relative ease, and that it all built to such a wonderful conclusion The story concerns Audrey Death, whose Encephalitis lethargica forms the spine of the novel We see her life in World War 1, and we see her Doctor, in the 1970s, attempting to wake her with experimental treatment We also see this doctor, Busner, in 2010, returning to the hospital where Audrey once lived and he once worked Along the way we meet Audrey s brother, Albert, who has an eidetic memory and who has turned his back on his sister The novel unravels these various histories personal and case and builds a commentary upon memory, life, health and friendship At first I thought it surprising that Self had a novel on the Man Booker Prize long list in 2012 After reading Umbrella, I think he might just win it Will Umbrella Win I think it might It has the scope that Booker judges love It has a story that engages intellectually and emotionally, and is absolutely superb Where it might fail is that its construction is deliberately complex, and this might put people off If it wins, I suspect it will become one of those winners that people talk about but rarely read or at least finish It s not populist, but it should be rewarded British fiction can be quite tame it is good to see some experimentation is left in the old beast. I slogged through this in order to say I had read all of the Booker shortlist before the award was announced, for once Let s make one thing clear without that compelling reason, I would not have kept with it.There is a difference between difficult writing and good writing I personally think Will Self careens toward difficult without giving a thought to the reader Oh, I m not just complaining because this is hard to read I get many of the references and imitations, I just didn t think they were necessary to do all at once As Self himself said on page 86, simply wishing the madness away won t make anyone regain their sanity First of all, you have the obvious comparison to Ulysses by James Joyce In fact, just in case you dared to miss the comparison, he starts with a quotation from Ulysses A brother is as easily forgotten as an umbrella This quotation comes back to haunt the reader towards the end of the story, but I won t ruin that particularly moment for the two other readers who will make it that far Ulysses has something very important that Umbrella does not variety It morphs between storytelling styles and points of view, with a rise and fall that keeps the reader interested Umbrella goes FULL SPEED AHEAD with no chapters, no paragraphs maybe a few indented starts , no dialogue signs, no breaks Characters have dialogue and internal thoughts in the same breath, and italicized words aren t one or the other but are frequent throughout the book There are three time periods covered by the novel but you never know where you are Is an event being remembered or narrated Are we moving linearly or going back and forth Who are all these people Ha.Also, if this is Ulysses, this is if Ulysses took place in a mental institution in a Cockney accent Oh yes Before I forget, a good portion of the spoken words in this novel are Cockney slang Good luck.Suddenly, I got to page 138 And a character said We re erebecausewe re ere All in one word, no spaces, and repeatedly, and I thought, Where have I heard that before I thought it was either Lem or Huxley, and guessed right by rereading my review of Memoirs Found in a Bathtub, where one of my favorite bits was people chanting or singing We re HERE because we re HERE because we re HERE because we re HERE Woah Okay So a reference to Lem, interesting So it must be okay that I don t know where I am and nothing makes sense I do think it would have been nicer to hide in a bathtub than to force myself to finish.I took to a deep skim of the rest If you try to pick out the important bits, you uncover a story that isn t that different from Awakenings, where a psychiatrist treats a patient with Postencephalitic parkinsonism Audrey Death, the patient, appears throughout the novel in her youth, in her mental hospital self, and everything in between As far as I can tell the characters DO things but don t feel anything It is impossible to connect with anyone when you re being bombarded with the songs they have in their head.I sound impatient I feel impatient I read some lovely books this year that were nominated for the Booker I m worried the judges will select this one because they don t understand it, because it intimidates them, and therefore it must be good I hold that this technique itself is not a bad idea, but would be far interesting in smaller doses. Umbrella tells the simultaneous stories well okay this is not the simultaneity that one finds in the Wake for instance, which, as far as I know, might be the only way to really really do simultaneity in prose, and that is definitely not what is happening here what is happening here is like narrative enjambment, or collage, or a kind of radical undifferentiation of plot lines perspective of Dr Zack Busner, a charmingly sympathetic character loosely based on Oliver Sacks, who is given to us in multiple timelines describing his experiences dealing with post encephalitis lethargica patients in the bewildering, dream or nightmare like labyrinthine wards and corridors of Friern Hospital formerly Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum in this book a highly developed character all on its own along with a twinned narrative of the elderly Busner dealing with the pains of being old and alone in a changing world that seems to be expelling him bit by bit, revisiting the places and memories of his time with awakened patient Audrey Death one of the encephalitic slumberers caught in suspended animation for decades In a tripleted or trebled narrative current we are shown the life stories of the Death or Dearth, or De Ath, or Deeth names can be slippery things family and their disparate destinies throughout WWI and before beyond Each of these timelines narratives holds equal space time in the novel, and each one seamlessly glides in and out of the other in unbroken chains of vigorous prososity The real star here is Self himSelf this is a bravura performance of writing Self consciously apes the modernist style developed by Joyce and taken up by Woolf et al the first words in the book are Busner humming to himselfI m an ape man, I m an ape ape manSelf knows precisely what he is doing here the timeline of the book covers almost exactly the epoch where modernism reigned in literature but tweaks it or messes with it enough to not come off as some irritating xerox The fractures in narrative time, the little burping wormholes that open up and close like a chewing maw, the hyperkinetic fidgety use of italics which come to make sense after awhile, as manic internals or asides, or simply a mirror of the ticcing disorders of Busner s patients makes Umbrella a terribly energetic read I say go with the flow, and let it wash over you, stand under the wave of Self s enviable vocabulary and range and depth of verbiage and wordsmithery and absolute absence of cliche It is certainly one of the most unique and most invigorating historical novels you ll ever read And oh yes umbrellas, the physical objects, make countless cameos, and become a kind of quiet symbolic iteration of well something perhaps we all eventually realize we have overlooked or lost But it has to do with that epigraph from JoyceA brother is as easily forgotten as an umbrellaSo yes, read this Ulyssean spawn This is my first Self, and with it he has quickly entered into that pantheon of Writers I Will Read Whatever The Fuck They Write It s terribly exciting to discover an entire body of work from an author you have full confidence in And the simple fact that books like Umbrella are being written, published, and nominated for awards in this day and age should be heartening for us readers, one and all