FEATURE WILL SELF
ill Self is a writer ' in the happy position of having published three good books in as many years, with the second improving on the ﬁrst and the latest still more substantial than the second. The quirky short stories collected in The Quantity Theory Of Insanity were followed by Cock And Bull, twin novellas addressing questions of gender in surreal style, dense with black, intelligent humour, and with his new book he makes the logical progression to a full-length novel. My Idea Of Fun is the story of lan, a young man with abnormal psychology and extraordinary powers of visualisation, drawn into a world of insanity and violence by a ﬁgure known as The Fat Controller. Severe sexual hang—ups, a penchant for slaugh- tering strangers and a tendency to experience elaborate hallucina- tions ensue, leading to a disturb- ing climax by way of some very elegant writing and the exploration of various difﬁcult and curious concepts. Keep a dictionary handy - Self possesses an extensive vocabulary and relishes using it. ‘Sometimes I think the writing is a bit too “literwawy”,’ he says self- .1 mockingly, ‘but so what? I know I the language and I love words. A “i writer must be free to use the ,2, words he or she wants to.’ Self was in Edinburgh recently. speaking at a Book Festival seminar about the state of contem- porary English ﬁction. He is well placed to comment, as his work, which has attracted plenty of critical attention, has earned him a secure place in Britain’s current literary ﬁrst division. He projects a rather sinister persona, an image reinforced by his gaunt appearance, and the dark elements of his ‘ personal style ﬁnd many parallels in his writing. The strength of his work derives from his sharp. original intelligence, which satirises just about everything, twists everyday experience into warped psychotropic visions and spares no action or characteristic from depressing and cynical analysis. Cynical, yes; amoral no. ‘All my work is highly morally charged,’ Self says. ‘lt may feature violence, but then violence is all around us. Sarajevo is just down the road but we
himSelf about his new novel.
Vllll Salt: ‘My work may feature violence, but then violence is all around us.’
turn a blind eye to it.’ My Idea 0f Fun features some pretty ugly behaviour, but any accusations that it is revelling in cruelty should be stymied by the subtitle: ‘A Cautionary Tale’.
intrigued by society’s difﬁculty in establishing any satisfactory moral consensus, Self keeps an interested eye on the spiritual vacuum left as the influence of organised religion dwindles. ‘Although right and wrong are relative concepts, there are currents in society which l’d say are
Selt ls plainly fascinated by the universal human need to get plastered, stoned, euphoric and otherwise out oi control.
Psychopathology, murder, sexual dysfunction — all in a day’s work for Will Self, one of Britain’s most original and exciting young writers. Cathy Boylan spoke to the man
antithetical to a “good” life. We’re all subjected to nihilistic program- ming of one sort or another - how do you combat that?’ Not by promoting conventional morality in his books, thankfully. His writing is appreciated by those who enjoy ascerbity, distortion and ' a spot of psychopathology; ethical concerns operate within the offbeat contexts Self creates around his diabolical characters. Typically, the only innocent I character in My Idea OfFun, lan’s 3:41 pregnant wife, is of no intrinsic interest. 1 Selfis an interesting new ﬁgure in British literature, because he combines aspiratiOns characteris- tic of previous decades —- towards experimentation, freedom of form, danger, intoxication and general excess of all kinds — with a strong , dose of 905 caution and insecurity. His work to date pulls strongly away from convention in the direction of innovation, but the issues which exercise him, due partly no doubt to his position as the father of young children, reflect the social and political pressures of the decade. He has stated that his work in future will move in a ‘more afﬁrmative’ direction, but he remains an unlikely case for devilish youth giving way to intellectually ﬂabby middle age, millenial angst notwithstanding. Still, it’s hard to predict in what direction his writing will progress. Quite apart from thematic questions, his style is so distinctive that he‘ll need to beware of overdosing his readers. He currently has two projects in the pipeline. One is a collection of essays on drugs aand intoxication which, among other things, examines the idea of psychologically proﬁling addictive personalities and looks at efforts to cure addiction — Self is plainly fascinated by the universal human need to get plastered, stoned, euphoric and otherwise out of control. About the second he will only say that it is a novel about ethnic warfare in London in which the protagonist is female. He expects this to be difﬁcult, but so far Self has made difﬁcult work look easy. So easy, in fact, that if i had to bank on the future of any contemporary British writer, my money would be on Will Self. D My Idea 0f Fun is published by Bloomsbury on 16 September at £15.99
14 The List 10—23 September 1993