The Quiddity of Will Self – curiouser and curiouser

I’m going to preface this review by saying that I’ve never read any Will Self. To me he’s always just been a media personality with rather furious looking eyebrows. I once read an article about him, though, in which he described how and where he writes. Answer? In a very nice room and on a typewriter. The luscious literary study made me feel jealous that I don’t even have a desk and the typewriter business made me feel rather sorry for the junior staff at his publisher. I bet they curse his name when they’re typing up his manuscript! But I digress.

I plan to give his books a go now, after reading Sam Mills’ twisted homage to him – How The Dead Live will probably be my first port of call. The idea of the dead just moving to a different part of London appeals to me. It’s original.

I suppose originality is what drew Sam Mills to Will Self, and it’s what, in turn, will draw readers to The Quiddity of Will Self. It’s a sort of meta-novel with so many layers and so many worlds wrapped up within it, it makes your head spin. Described as quirky and highly original on its jacket, it certainly lives up to that promise. I’ve read a lot of books and I’d be stumped if I was forced to compare it to anything else.

Mills quickly draws you in to a shadowy world and leaves you unsettled as the parameters of reality within her narrative shift constantly. It’s hard to tell, a lot of the time in this book, who is mad and dangerous and who is the victim of a bigger, more sinister conspiracy. You’re often left wondering whether you’ve bought into the fantasy version of events – whether you’re stumbling around in a dream world, not quite grasping the truth. In that sense, you share her characters preoccupations.

At the same time, Mills offers you a vision of a future (in 2049) that feels unnervingly possible, where sesquipedalians are being wiped out and vocabulary has been halved. This, Mr Literary Kitty tells me when I settle down to watch The Only Way Is Essex, is the sort of future I’m helping to create. (I try to argue that being an editor cancels that out but he never looks convinced.)

Anyway, Sam Mills has gone some way to convincing me that Will Self is not a curmudgeonly luddite but a real lover of the English language. Mills herself, it seems, is another disciple. There are surprises lurking in every corner in this book, and among the best are the little nuggets of language I’ve never come across before – the concepts of quiddity (whatness) and hacceity (thisness), for example.

So if you’re looking for something to get your teeth into, or a book to push you out of your comfort zone, give this dark and refreshingly different tale a try.

Buy this book


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