by Will Self
Category: Fiction / General
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publication date: 16 August 2012
Number of pages: 416
Prizes: Shortlisted for Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2012.
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 1890 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. Is Audrey's diseased brain in its nightmarish compulsion a microcosm of the technological revolutions of the twentieth century? And if Audrey is ill at all - perhaps her illness is only modernity itself? And what of Audrey's two brothers, Stanley and Albert: at the time she fell ill, Stanley was missing presumed dead on the Western Front, while Albert was in charge of the Arsenal itself, a coming man in the Imperial Civil Service. Now, fifty years later, when Audrey awakes from her pathological swoon, which of the two is it who remains alive? Radical in its conception, uncompromising in its style, Umbrella is Will Self's most extravagant and imaginative exercise in speculative fiction to date.
What the papers say:
In these culturally straitened times few writers would have the artistic effrontery to offer us a novel as daring, exuberant and richly dense as Umbrella. Will Self has carried the Modernist challenge into the twenty-first century, and worked a wonder John Banville Umbrella is his best book yet ... It makes new for today the lessons taught by the morals of Catch 22, Slaughterhouse Five, The Tin Drum, also Marquez's Chronicle of a Death Foretold Alasdair Gray Self has never been shortlisted for the Booker, but Umbrella is such a linguistically adept, emotionally subtle and ethically complex novel that this could and should be his year Guardian A tour de force ... Despite the bleakness of the message, by the end you are filled with elation at the author's exuberant ambition and the swaggering way he carries it all off, and then a huge sense of deflation at the realisation that whatever book you read next, it won't be anything like this Daily Mail A dazzling feat of imagination and structure: a sprawling, lyrical, stream-of-consciousness narrative that squares up to modernism and brings it kicking and screaming into the 21st century ... stomach-lurchingly ambitious Observer The reader is snagged on moments of brilliance and, most thrilling of all, left to make her own connections Daily Telegraph A superbly realised exemplar of an older and rarer genre - a metaphysical novel in the tradition of Edgar Allan Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, exploring the evanescence of consciousness in a material world that can never be finally understood New Statesman, Books of the Year Umbrella is a magnificent celebration of modernist prose, an epic account of the first world war, a frightening investigation into the pathology of mental illness ... must be recognised as, above all, a virtuoso triumph of emotional and creative intelligence Spectator Kind of amazing ... It may not be his easiest, but I think this may be Will Self's best book Sam Leith, Observer Ambitious and mind-blowing linguistic tapestry of a novel Independent on Sunday Amazing - it's like a different creature altogether Alison Moore, The Observer Passionate and melancholic Times Literary Supplement A high-spirited footnote to the modernism of James Joyce, this fascinating literary experiment came tantalisingly close to winning the 2012 Booker prize ... Umbrella is one of the most exhilarating "difficult" books published for many years ... Rarely has a historic novel provided such a challenge Observer He succeeds beautifully, writing with a new sophistication. The result is a stunning novel, and a compelling Self-reinvention Independent on Sunday Extraordinary The Lady By the end you are filled with elation at the author's exuberant ambition and the swaggering way he carries it all off, and then a huge sense of deflation at the realisation that whatever book you read next, it won't be anything like this Daily Mail An ebullient, seductive, virtuoso display of imaginative prose which, if you have the stamina, is truly mind-blowing [...] wonderfully achieved. If I was on the panel I would vote for its Falstaffian audacity and wayward charm Robert McCrum, Observer Time slips, perspectives shift and the book's wormhole dance is dazzling Financial Times, Books of the Year Self is the Marmite of contemporary fiction - some find his verbal fireworks show-offy, others love his anarchic sheer bloody brilliance ... His playful way with language and layout is unstoppably entertaining Kate Saunders, The Times His deepest and most rewarding novel to date. Madness, war, mechanisation; class, feminism and modernity - all these and more are interrogated in a dense slab of prose that spans the 20th century and jumps from one consciousness to another in the high old modernist style Guardian, Books of the Year Will Self finds his authentic voice as a writer and reclaims the high modernist mode as a natural and highly emotional form of narration. It's exhilarating for that reason ... Once you get used to it, it's not at all difficult to read Jonathan Coe, Metro A wonderful piece of sustained writing and passion. Just dive in and let it take you to good places A. L. Kennedy, Scotsman Books of the Year Books of the Year Boyd Tonkin, Independent An ambitious and sophisticated book about memory and the human brain that - with its shifting time frames, flipping points of view and voices in various heads - in no way advertised its ease for the reader Daily Telegraph A fun book, endearingly self-satisfied. It is difficult not to enjoy its tricks and bravura flourishes Eileen Battersby, Irish Times Book of the Year Extravagant, imaginative and utterly bonkers: Self's best yet Observer
Will Self is the author of many novels and books of non-fiction, including How the Dead Live, which was shortlisted for the Whitbread Novel of the Year 2002 and The Butt, winner of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction 2008. He lives in South London.
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