Will Self was billed at the hottest young novelist in England at the time this was published; a novelist, reviewer and columnist, Self is considered one of British literature's brightest lights. And, unsurprisingly, I haven't read anything of his, though my literature-reading sister is fond of his work, and he is someone I feel I ought (will a moral imperative) to read. So when I meandered past the library's S section and saw a few Self novels I decided to check them out.
I was surprised by the interesting nature of the premises of the novels I picked up, and have two set aside to read next week. I decided to start with Grey Area, though, as the blurb says it's the place for new readers to begin. It also says "Self startles and cajoles... with unexpected and fiendish wit."
The first short story, "Between the Conceits", is a first-person narration to an unidentified audience where the narrator explains how he and seven others are the only real people in London, responsible for tweaking the strings of the rest of the populace who believe themselves to be autonomous, and subtly communicating to one another through these actions - "the Recorder's people... have consistently increased the number of 'Good mornings' they've bidden to my people over the past ten years." It was an interesting concept, and the ending is attractively oblique, but I didn't engage with the narrator or the narrative and finished wondering what the point of it all was.
The second story, "The Indian Mutiny," is also a first-person narrative, this time by a man who, as a teen, so consistently and systematically undermined a teacher that he committed suicide. And again - eh.
And so it went, until I began skimming through the stories seeking something different that the literary greyness I encountered and I finally stopped midway through the the eponymous story, "Grey Area".
Perhaps I was just in the mood for something more accessible, or less work, but this collection felt like flat diet Coke when I wanted something solid and substantive. I'm going to give the novels a shot, but not for a bit. - Alex