It's a SKIP WEEK so the dulcet toned duo of Gentle Jeff Lester and Glamorous Graeme McMillion$ are off...um...doing, er, stuff and things. Probably. But we here at The Savage Critics love and value each and every one of you (especially you, sir! (or madam!)) and thus I have provided some hacky trash about some books you, let's face it, have no interest in. I know, you can hardly wait! Anyway, Jeff (who lives at home) and Graeme (who works from home) will be back next week. (Please, God.) Grin and bear it is my advice. Say, anyone remember that time Howard Victor Chaykin got trapped in SWORD OF THE ATOM#3 (DC Comics, 1983) by Gil Kane & Jan Strnad? No, because (as our Savage Legal Dept were fast to point out) that didn't happen. Anyway, this...
TRAPPED IN THE SATURDAY MATINEE by Joe R Lansdale PS Publishing, £19.99 (2012)
This one’s another career spanning grab bag of bits’n’bobs from the Mojo storyteller hissownself. It’s mostly short stories but there’s also a couple of non-fiction pieces about how imaginative fiction and hard work (also, although modestly whispered, talent) saved the sturdy sensei from a life spent building aluminium lawn furniture. I’m sure we can all agree that aluminium lawn furniture’s loss is weird fiction’s gain. Back there I said another because Lansdale’s career’s so lengthy and his output so vast that there are now several of these retrospective things studding his bibliography. They are all pretty much of a muchness. Each effectively represents the progression of Lansdale’s relaxed and down home style and how he has used it with increasing success to corral his wild flights of fancy into work as entertaining it is deceptively sophisticated. To misquote the American poet and visionary Jon Bon Jovi; He gives pulp a good name (good name). The actual contents of these samplers vary some but they are consistent in demonstrating Lansdale’s vulgar vigour, his inexhaustibly inventive imagination, a nice line in potty mouthery and also the sure sense of place his work delivers. Well, if it’s set in Texas anyway. Which, no fool he, most of his stuff is. Since that’s where he was born and formed Lansdale’s work is deep fried in his Texas surroundings and the colourful vernacular thereof. This is extraordinarily appealing to someone who lives in a country as grey, damp and intrinsically self-hating as England. Hey, I guess if you live in Nacogdoches, Texas then Joe R. Lansdale would be gritty kitchen sink realism. That’s a wild and woolly thought right there. Fair warning for Lansdale fans: this volume includes Lansdale’s Hellboy novelette Jiving With Shadows And Dragons And Long Dark Trains. This being a tale which Lansdale doesn't own and so this will probably be the only book with his name on the spine in which it appears. Hey now, it’s one of them there books by that there Joe R Lansdale and that’s GOOD!
THE QUIDDITY OF WILL SELF by Sam Mills Corsair, £12.99 (2012)
Thanks to the benevolence of the titular man with the face like a despairing hound Sam Mills uses the name and work of Will Self to lure readers into what would otherwise be a daunting work of bewildering convolution and disorienting stylistic facility. Yes! This is what you want! It’s several hundred pages embodying what Kingsley Amis found so unattractive about his own son’s work and graced with the phrased “titting the reader about”. Or as we mere plebs know it: post-modernism. Apparently this is Sam Mills’ first novel intended for an adult audience (adult as in grown up not adult as in brown paper bags, wandering hands and heavy breathing) and it took her nine years to complete it. Given all that and the fact that Will Self’s work haunts every page (if not every word; if not every letter; you get the drift) then I’d have to say Sam Mills is quite the fan of Will Self. Fans of Will Self or lovers of the use of the word "sesquipedalian" will get the most out of this, I guess. But that doesn't mean folk unfamiliar with Will Self will get nothing out of it. Mills is canny enough to have a character unfamiliar with Self’s work act as the reader surrogate and the various Self-ish sections are based in familiar genres (murder mystery, future dystopia etc) to aid immersion if not actual outright comprehension. It’s fun stuff but most of the fun comes from the bizarre turns and confounding twists this wonkily weird beast takes, so I'll not spoil any of them. I will note that that the underlying theme of how creativity in one person is insanity in another and is thus, by necessity, unique to each of us (if we have any) is vividly and entertainingly plumbed throughout this odd duck's duration. In sum, as Terence Blacker’s Kill Your Darlings is to Martin Amis so is The Quiddity of Will Self to, well, Will Self, obviously. Keep up now. Or to put it another way The Quiddity of Will Self is VERY GOOD!
UMBRELLA by Will Self Bloomsbury, £18.99 (2012)
From what I can gather the writing of this book was pretty challenging for the lugubrious human lexicon known as Will Self. His previous book, Walking To Hollywood, was decidedly not a success (an unsuccess?) and he appeared somewhat shaken by its poor sales. I stress that he appeared so in interviews etc not in close personal encounters as I don’t know the man or anything. So, I certainly don’t have access to his sales figures but I can’t imagine Will Self has 7 Shades of Shit level sales in the first place so those must have been some pretty sobering sales. Which is a shame because it was a good book; a mix of psycho-geography, insane asides and a moving consideration of the debilitating encroachment of Alzheimer’s. It didn’t sell despite a scene where the Hulk bums a car and also an extended bloodily ferocious fight between the morose flaneur himself and James Bond (Daniel Craig flava). People just ain’t got no taste, I tells ya! Stung Self retreated, regrouped and reconsidered. The result was a book written in very short sentences about a vampire boy wizard’s adventures in sex and shopping set in space. My little elitist joke designed to raise your hackles there. No, the book Will Self wrote, Umbrella was a decades spanning examination of the effects of technology on the human psyche presented via the experiences of several characters ranging from a coma patient, her ambitious but flawed psychiatrist, her WWI trenches bound class agitating soldier brother and her icy, almost robotic arms manufacturer other brother. And to really reel in the punters, to really bother the upper levels of the sales chart, to ensure those units shifted, Self chose to do it all in a stream of consciousness stylee. In effect it’s a 400-some pages long single paragraph in which the text is so molten that there can be a shift in character and a jump of decades in a single sentence. Paying attention is required I’m very much afraid, but you will be more than amply rewarded for your payment.
The big sexy hook on which all this majestic Modernism (yes, Modernism not Post-Modernism) hangs is the Sleepy Sickness (or encephalitis lethargica for any Romans stil kicking out there) of 1915-1926 and the use of L-Dopa in the ‘70s to briefly awaken the surviving sufferers. Yes, that’s right, this is similar ground to Oliver Sacks’ Awakenings or, for the cinematically inclined, the Penny Marshall directed 2007 motion picture adaptation of same. But Sack’s was fact(ish) and this is fiction and if it were (and it won’t ever be) filmed it should come off like Terry Gilliam directing a mash up of Awakenings, Charley’s War and Britannia Hospital scripted by a maniacally focused Dennis Potter. Umbrella is a beautiful thing is what I’m getting at there. Self's been quite open that his choice to apply the Modernist style was a direct reaction to what he perceived to be a lack of invention in the fiction nominated for such literary lottos as the Man Booker Prize. In a move that could leave only a stone unmoved Umbrella went on to adorn the Man Booker Prize short list for 2012. That’s irony in action there. But! Hilary Mantel took the prize with Bring Up The Bodies the second in her more traditionally honed
Richard III Thomas Cromwell trilogy. That’s the literary establishment putting someone in their place in action there. And when you hit the crossed out words you'll see reality taking me down a peg or two too. As the splendidly well read and factually accurate Jacob pointed out in his comment - I was talking out of my (smart) arse with this next bit. I wrote this stuff on paper, typed it up and forgot to do a basic fact check. N.B. It is particularly important to fact check books you haven't read. I've left it in because who doesn't like to see someone humbled? Gandhi? Are you Gandhi? No you are not, sir; so enjoy the schadenfreude it's free!... Still, there’s no shame in Self’s loss as the cosmic fix was clearly in anyway as, shortly after her win, the actual corpse of Mantel’s main character was found buried in a car park. Richard III just pops up for fuck’s sake, what are the chances?!? When reality is pulling publicity stunts on your behalf then winning the Booker’s a walk in the park. I’m sure Hilary Mantel’s book deserved its award but Umbrella was my book of 2012 because it was EXCELLENT!
Well? What did you want? COMICS!!!