Tuesday, 13 August 2013

The Quiddity of Will Self by Sam Mills

I love you, you smug, 
sesquipedalian bastard you
It’s hard to say, when asked as I was recently at a meeting of local writers (who you can follow on Twitter if you wish), who might be my favourite author. If you look at my book shelves, you might see groupings of books by modern authors such as (WARNING - gratuitous alphabetical roll-call):

Paul Auster, John Barth, Richard Brautigan, Thomas Bernhard, Jim Bob, T.C. Boyle, Karel Čapek, Jonathan Carroll, Stephen Donaldson, Glen Duncan, Tibor Fischer, Peter Høeg, Michel Houellebeq, Bohumil Hrabal, Ismail Kadare, Andrey Kurkov, John D McDonald, Harry Mullisch, Haruki Murakami, Cees Nooteboom, Victor Pelevin, Thomas Pynchon, Jon Ronson, and Kurt Vonnegut (my usual go-to favourite when I don’t have the energy to explain).

In addition, you might just spot every book ever published by one William Woodard "Will" Self (minus Sore Sites which mysteriously vanished while moving house a few years back). Whilst a fan, and also willing to admit experiencing an embarrassing and sometimes dispiriting awe at the breadth of vocabulary and metaphor displayed in any of his work, I can’t claim to be quite as impressed or inspired by his work as the author of The Quiddity*… appears to be. Sam(antha) Mills explores the “whatness” of Will Self (as opposed to the “thisness”**) through a stratified post-modern narrative where (s)he appears as a character as does Will (him)Self. ***

Put simply, you might say Mills is experimenting with ventriloquism using Will Self as inspiration and lots of old zeitgeist-y conceits - the found manuscript, the fake diary, a Murder of Roger Ackroyd-type unreliable narrator, and so forth. After a rather excellent introduction, an extract from a fictional work by fictional character Jamie Curren, founder of the sinister and, in the novel at least, fictional WSC, we have Richard, idle twenty-something with obvious mental health issues who becomes involved in a literary detective story around a murdered girl and a mysterious cult, the WSC. We have the dead girl herself, haunting Will Self in his study in an attempt to influence his latest novel (The Book of Dave). We see a somewhat deranged Richard again in part three, in what he initially believes to be an art project where, incarcerated, he is writing a novel (and a diary) in a tower block whilst people come to watch, but which has a sinister A Clockwork Orange feel to it with the malevolent Professor Self (no relation…) and his strange theories and potions. We find Mia in part four, picking up the detective plot but in the future (2049) after Will Self has died (but not before he finally won the Booker Prize aged 82). And in part five, we find Sam Mills him/herself, telling the story of the book’s struggle into life after 9 years of research and writing.

However, to simplify is to do an injustice to what is a book crammed, packed, stuffed with invention, philosophy, questions about identity and gender, Will Self, places, characters and direct quotations from his work, and lots of sex, including a pseudo-succubus in part five. Mills puts her words into diverse mouths with great skill and, mostly, without noticeable dissonance. She gamely attempts the post-modern ironic trope of sesquipedalian loquaciousness***** that Self employs himself, and manages it all without the necessity for the reader to have read any of his novels prior to this one. Those adjectives, used in review columns and which tend to place interesting fiction on the extremes (or indeed, outside) of the mainstream, such as challenging, inventive, innovative, could all be applied without prejudice, and to go back to simplicity, considering Sam Mills’ previous as a young adult author, this is top stuff, easy to read despite what I may have said about verbosity, engrossing and entertaining, and endorsed by the man himself – unless that’s also fiction. If you're into fiction off the beaten path, you should probably read this. 


* Quiddity (plural quiddities); noun
The essence or inherent nature of a person or thing.
Synonym: whatness

** Haecceity (plural haecceities); noun
The essence of a particular thing; those qualities that define it and make it unique.
Synonym: thisness

*** Lots of parenthesis and footnotes can only mean one thing – self-referential post-modernism! The author, a female, appears as a male character writing the book in which the character appears; Will Self plays himself in a fictional**** setting; I get confused by things and stuff.

**** When I say fictional, it does have roots in reality, albeit inspired by the novel – check out The Will Self Club website for more on what Ms Mills does in her spare time.

***** I’ve finally managed to use this in a sentence in a relevant context. You can stop the Internet now. 

1 comment:

  1. Gah. I seem to have left off Joseph Heller from my roll call. Blast.

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