The Phoenix Network:
About  |  Advertise
Adult  |  Moonsigns  |  Band Guide  |  Blogs  |  In Pictures
Books  |  Comedy  |  Dance  |  Museum And Gallery  |  Theater

A smoker’s tale

Will Self’s The Butt
By JAMES PARKER  |  November 26, 2008

SILVER HAZE: The hoaxy, displaced, reality-TV feel is part of the recipe here — as is Henderson the Rain King.

The Butt | By Will Self | Bloomsbury | 368 pages | $26
Somehow one is surprised — if one is a semi-conscious literary journalist like me — by the discovery that Will Self has continued to produce books. So dashing and weird and telegenic a figure did he cut back in the early ’90s, when The Quantity Theory of Insanity and My Idea of Fun were coming out, that it seems he should have broken up by now, like a band, or passed onto some other, fresher phase of notoriety, like a housemate from The Surreal Life. Still, a writer writes, always (as Billy Crystal tells his students in Throw Momma from the Train), and here we are with his seventh novel, The Butt, the surprisingness of which is compounded by the fact that it’s very good indeed. 

Tom Brodzinski, vacationing en famille in a Third World tourist trap, flicks his cigarette end off the hotel balcony; it lands with a flesh-creasing hiss upon the scalp of an elderly fellow guest, whereupon Tom is pitched into a netherworld of liability and tribal justice, attorneys and witch doctors. As part of the reparation proceedings, a local medicine man makes a ritual incision in Tom’s thigh: “The makkata closed in on Tom and knelt. He was clickety-clacking with his slack dry purse lips.”

Devout viewers of reality TV will of course be reminded of the Discovery Channel’s 2006 series Going Tribal and the famous “penis inversion” undergone by its host, Bruce Parry, among the Kombai tribesmen of West Papua. “The makkata’s breath was now on the front of his [Tom’s] shorts, and Tom could smell it despite the vegetal rot of the jungle.” The hoaxy, displaced, reality-TV feel is part of the recipe here. Add a dollop of Kafka’s The Trial, one small Joseph Conrad (peeled and sliced), half a Graham Greene, a squirt or two of Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King, and simmer it all over a low Flann O’Brien. . . . Mmm, tasty!

Style-wise, Self appears unchanged from his earliest days — still the donnish flourishes of vocab, still the satirically enlarged squeamishness. “The hotdog was ruined now — a bit of medical waste on a wad of bloodstained sutures.” There’s a bit of creaking and gear clashing at the beginning of the book, as the author gets himself in the mood. (“Jesus Christ! Tom internally expostulated.”) And he does tend to push his luck with the similes: “then, at last, like a strained-for ejaculation, the hiss of the rains.” Well, if you say so. But the book’s real action takes place not on the page but through it — in the up-is-down future-primæval desert through which Tom must travel, with a strange person called Brian Prentice at his side, to atone for his original offence.

1  |  2  |   next >
Related: Claws for concern, 57. Ray J, Photos: American Idol Season 9 Auditions in Boston, More more >
  Topics: Books , Entertainment, Media, Television,  More more >
  • Share:
  • Share this entry with Facebook
  • Share this entry with Digg
  • Share this entry with Delicious
  • RSS feed
  • Email this article to a friend
  • Print this article
HTML Prohibited
Add Comment

Share this entry with Delicious
  •   WHATCHAMACALLIT  |  October 15, 2009
    John Gardner, the great teacher and novelist who wrote approximately 413 books before annihilating himself on a motorcycle in 1982, was very big on vocabulary.
  •   CARNAL KNOWLEDGE  |  October 06, 2009
    When I interviewed Nick Cave for the Phoenix three years ago and he told me — drolly, languidly, literarily — that his next writing project was about “a sexually incontinent hand-cream salesman” on the south coast of England, I assumed he was taking the piss.
  •   ENGINE NOTES  |  May 05, 2009
    The big question with Top Gear, the popular British consumer-car show (in perpetual reruns on BBC America), is this: will it succeed in denting my colossal lack of curiosity about cars?
    "Every movie I've made, starting with Dawn of the Dead, has been, like, death threats."
  •   DIRTY DEMOCRACY  |  December 17, 2008
    Breathe deep, politics fans. What is that odor?

 See all articles by: JAMES PARKER

RSS Feed of for the most popular articles
 Most Viewed   Most Emailed 

  |  Sign In  |  Register
Phoenix Media/Communications Group:
Copyright © 2010 The Phoenix Media/Communications Group