Having only recently read J.G. Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition, I was interested to see that Will Self not only dedicated this book to Ballard, but in his extensive introductory essay (Walking To The World), he had effusive praise for his mentor. The World is a series of man-made islands off the coast of Dubai. It’s here that Self comes to circumnavigate the isle of Great Britain.
Self walks as much as he can, everywhere. Odd places, not the usual destinations. In a series of some fifty-plus essays, Self gives his impressions of these places, often with humorous asides. Each essay is only 2-3 pages long. Somewhere in there I think he said they were 800 words each. I didn’t check. Each one is accompanied by some even odder drawings by gonzo graphic artist, Ralph Steadman, former collaborator of Hunter S. Thompson.
There’s no doubt that Self has an acid pen, and he knows how to wield it. Funny-acerbic, you might say. I usually love quick hitters, but here, I longed for longer, more in depth essays. I just couldn’t get in to them as I had wished. This is not to say that there wasn’t some funny stuff here – just not enough of it. Part of the long introductory essay has his commentary on Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building: “the big prick of the Burj.”
Forgive me Sigmund, for paraphrasing your apocrypha, but while sometimes a cigar may be just a cigar, a tall building is always a big dick – and what does it say of the Arabs that they feel compelled to erect so many of them.
In “The Inertia of Middle Age”, Self asks this very good question:
Why it is, that the authorities haven’t proscribed devices which encourage drivers to stare fixedly at a tiny screen featuring a schematic representation of where they are, rather than looking at the real world, is beyond me.
“Whistlin’ in Suasalito” brushes briefly up against the question of suicides and the San Francisco Bay Bridge. One of the better episodes in the book. While in “Mad Masterchefs’ Tea Party”, Self ponders the demise of the Atlantic fisheries with a beyond jaundiced eye.
These are essays that probably could use some re-reading. Even the pictures deserve a second look. There are little hidden things here and there, much like those old Mad Magazine cartoons. But I’ve got to walk on, now. Other books await.