Well, how about that? It’s a lot, I know. There was some discussion a while ago about Will Self and most professed to being unfamiliar with his writing. I think Liver: A Fictional Organ with a Surface Anatomy of Four Lobes is a decent entry to his writing. If you like his style, there’s much to delve in to. If not, well, apologies.
So, this is a collection of four somewhat interrelated stories but I think this book has two strands: 1.) It’s a story of Soho in the late 1990s told from approx. 10 years later, and, 2.) It’s a sober Will Self, approx. 10 years later, reflecting on how and why he contracted Hepatitis C. These things are not unrelated. Will Self features as a character in these stories as his avatar Cal Devenish. And he does appear in all these stories, named or not.
Let’s have a think about these four stories:
- Foie Humain – Possibly the bleakest part of the book, it’s a hell of an introduction. The “Plantation Club” is a barely disguised accounting of the real-life “Colony Room” in Soho. In the 90s it became the place where the cultural elite would hang, say your Damien Hirsts, Kate Moss’, Damon Albarns and, yes, your Will Selfs. It was indeed handed down, barman to barman. It was, in the decades before, predominantly a queer bar frequented by the likes of Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud. But mostly it was a club for inveterate alcoholics with a bohemian bent. Various royals liked the place. Self is writing about its waning days when he was there.
- Leberknödel – maybe the warmest story in this book. Definitely the warmest story in this book. I kinda love this as the best actual story here but I’ve recently realised that there’s a whole ‘nother level to this which I had no clue about. Apparently the whole thing is a riff on James Joyce’s later days? I don’t know much about James Joyce but this story is seemingly full of references to his work. (I mean, the protagonist is named Joyce.) James Joyce spent years in Zurich and is buried there, and this is where Self sends Joyce to die, and explore the locales that James Joyce also lived. Too much for me to unpack but it’s still a good story on its own. If you want to read more about the connections between Joyce and Joyce, there’s a good essay here.
- Prometheus – I have the least to say about this one. I like the passage where the griffon vulture tracks him through a commercial kitchen. People with a stronger understanding of Greek mythology might have ideas about this.
- Birdy Num Num – First of all, I actually really like the main guy hustling for a bit of a fix. He’s not charming but he is relatable. Also, the repetitiveness of British comedy is something I grew up with. Always the same dozen films; the same actors. The key to addiction and UK TV is repetition. (Let’s watch the same twelve episodes of Fawlty Towers again!) The thing that the book is doing here, asking us to recall half-memories of a shit Peter Sellers comedy, and apply it to the absurdity of life as lived, which has nothing to do with plot… This is my favourite part of the book.
We’re tired, yes. This book has been a lot, yes. And now we get a treatise on slapstick? Yes, we are being fucked with.