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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Monday, 2 April 2018

"The Book of Dave" by Will Self

Five hundred years from now England has been invaded by the rising sea and turned into an archipelago with an agriculturally based feudal society. There are two languages, that we would recognise today and a dialect derived from the speech of |London cabbies. The simple farmers of Ham subsist with a mammal called the Moto, a domesticated sub-human capable of speech, which they farm for its oil and its meat.

The religion of Ing is based on the Book of Dave, a London cabby around the year 2000, and its theology, its liturgy and its practices are based on Dave's life. Heretics, called fliers, are ruthlessly persecuted.

Carl, son of the Geezer, a heretic who preached a second testament of Dave, is on the cusp of becoming a man. But he and his teacher, queer Antone, have been found guilty of entering the Forbidden Zone and they  flee Ham and travel through the hostile islands of Ing, searching for Carl's dad.

This story alternates with chapters from the life of Dave himself, angry cabby going mad and alleged father of Carl, now lost to him through the machinations of ex-wife Michelle and her new lover Cal.

There are very many parallels between the two stories and, I suppose, there are meant to be allegorical parallels between  the Geezer, preacher of the second testament, and  Jesus. But the stories are merely a vehicle for Self to show off his dazzling abilities.

First he has imagined a dystopia and fleshed it out and peopled it and every detail is described so brilliantly that you are there. You understand the flora and the fauna and the strange social customs of the people. He does the same for present-day London. "the London diorama pivoted about him: the toothpick steeples and cruet cupolas of the remaining Wren churches, the steel braces and concrete Karnak of Broadgate and the Barbican, the AstroTurf lawns and inflated, latex walls of the Tower, the brass doorknob of the Monument. Downriver a flock of pigeons clattered over the petrified wharves on the south bank, where graduate stevedores in blue striped aprons loaded boudon noir into the holds of German financial engineers." (p 453) There are magical images (toothpick steeples), there is humour (graduate stevedores) and it is all crammed together as if he is using a pneumatic hammer to cram far more in than he is allowed.

Second he has imagined not just one new language but two. By the end of the book you can read fluently both cabbie cockney of c2000 CE
Eye sumtyms fink iss awl gon arsy-versy, yernowoteyemeen? Ve C az cumminta ve lan - ve lan az gon aht 2 C” (p 465)
and the derived patois of Ham 524 After Dave which this blog doesn't give me the script to write.

This comes with its own cabbie derived vocabulary in which the words are sometimes spelt in several different ways depending on whether they are modern cabbie or future cabbie and how rural the future cabbie-speakers are: bubbery for cloth (from Burberry), blisterweed (or blistaweed) for Giant Hogweed, butterboys and nolidj boys and fonies (footmen) and fuckoffgaff (posh house) and ...

So the creation of these languages is a stunning tour de force.

And then the characters. Dave the cabbie, angrier and angrier, his inner voice ranting misogynistically and racistly and misanthropically. He hates everyone. He has good reason to hate some of them. By the end you feel sorry for poor old Dave, more abused than abuser. Michelle his ex-wife and her rich husband Cal who, despite being a stock character, races round London trying to track down his mentally ill daughter and desperately wants to be a dad to depressed teenager Carl. And in the new world there is Carl, soon to be a man, the farmboy with a way with motos, the lad who has no dad and so is adopted by them all, and Antony, the heretic teacher.

And all of this rich tapestry is a vehicle for Self to set forth his own vision of the hell we are making or our world and the even worse hell we might end up with if we let the forces of intolerance win. What if, he says, what if we allow a new religion to grow up which is based on a testament of hate written by a madman. And what he very carefully doesn't say is: what if that is the situation we are in now.

At the end of the book there is a funeral held in a Church of England church. "It was a measure of the dissipation of the Church's doctrine - its moral authority knocked over as casually as a drunk topples a beer glass - that a suicide's funeral was to be held ... But then self-murder and the mildewed hassocks, the musty drapes, the tarnished communion rail, the worm-holy rood screen, the foxed flyleaves of the prayer books - it all sat well together ... they were all the same for the impotent figures who stood in the pulpit and peered down at pitiful congregations" (p 474) Self seems to despise the modern church. But his vision of a future world run by fanatical priests in the service of a religion of hate is so appalling that I think I'll take the worm-holy rood.

Other wonderful phrases:

  • It fits tighter than a ridged dick in a ribbed condom.” (p 37)
  • Adding his own can of pain to this slopping tank of loss.” (p 44)
  • people walked the street with the jerky motion of puppets, visible strings lifting styrofoam cups to their painted lips.” (p 47)
  • there were hotels so large other hotels could have checked into them” (p 50)
  • All kids lie to their parents at that age - but I lied more.” (p 105)
  • All vain, pretty young women require at least one who is less so, to offset their own allure.” (p 107)
  • The hick from the sticks, who ... has no more conception of the city he found himself in than a worm does of the apple it bores through.” (p 193)
  • Insanity stank out the confined space like an eggy fart.” (p 278)
  • he was shooting fast down the senescent rapids.” (p 280)
  • crack criminals who’d broken into their own psyches, stolen everything worth having and left only coiled turds on the carpet of their own consciousness.” (p 284) 
  • He hacked at himself with craft knives, he upended paracetamol bottles. His stomach had been pumped more often than he’d filled it. iI the revolving door through which he entered Heath Hospital have been attached to a generator, Steve could have provided enough power for his own ECT.” (p 286)
  • They ... were grateful for his unceasing eight-year-old twitter, birdsong in their rotten garden.” (p 326) Birdsong in their rotten garden - what a wonderful way to show the desperate relationship between the mother and father of this child
  • He wanted to be where he was a lad to every dad, where he wasn't a stranger or an oddity.” (p 372)
  • we hardly have time to bolt starbuck before we must be gone for our sightseeing tour” (p 373)
  • Dave had become a cabbie to miss out on the supervisory eyes that made adult working life another fidgety classroom.” (p 391 )
  • When he penetrated her, they moved into and out of one another with fluid ease, revving and squealing, before arriving quite suddenly.” (p 392) Sex in the style of a London cab.
  • I fink they're too stops short of Dagenham. mate. said the foxy-faced cabbie, and his mate crackled. Yeah, fucking barking!” (p 401)
  • Surely it's only a tosser who says he regrets nothing at all - it means he remembers nothing ... be-because to remember is to regret.” (p 466)

April 2018; 477 pages

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