Dr Mukti and Other Tales of Woe
is Will Self's third collection of stories. (The "other" in the title being four tales of woe or woeful tales, as the ungenerous may be inclined to dub them.) Self's visceral, urban fictions have long been described as Swiftian. They are grotesque, scatological and, like Swift, rely on absurd premises being taken to their absurd yet logical conclusions. Dr Mukti
, a novella that resurrects Dr Busner from The Quantity Theory of Insanity
, certainly conforms to type.
It's a tale that depicts a battle between two rival psychiatrists: Dr Shiva Mukti of St Mungo's in Fitzrovia, an Indian "of modest achievement but vaulting ambitions" (ambitions he is convinced are being thwarted by a "crypto-psycho-Semitic" cabal) and the Jewish Dr Zack Busner, father of the Quantity Theory of Insanity and consultant at Heath Hospital. Their weapons, missiles really, are damaged patients that they fire back and forth across the Hampstead Road in a dual for supremacy. Busner sends "Creosote Man", a schizoid "with a mission to bring creosote ideas to the rest of mankind" to Mukti for a second opinion. Mukti counters with Rocky, a "Humanoid time bomb with a frontal-lobe lesion" and dreadlocks that gush "from his high forehead like jets of gingerish flocculent water". And so it goes on until Darlene Davis, an anorexic Goth with "a haemoglobin level of six", turns up at St Mungo's. From hereon in things go from bad, to very, very much worse for the Mukti.
London's topography, or a grisly hallucinatory version of it, is etched in lurid detail, the doctors' ambits echoing their contrasts in status. Mukti, his neurosis, his home life and the Hindu community in London's north-western suburbs are observed with acuity. But Self's self-conscious style--the profusion of extraneous similes, metaphors and his recondite vocabulary--is draining to say the least; mouths are "pink baskets", cabbage is "craven" and even a lowly potato is "pusillanimous". Self aficionados, and those who relish seeing words such as "flocculent" liberated from the mustier nooks of the dictionary, won't fail to be delighted. --Travis Elborough
Self returns with another collection of short fiction and, by now, we should know what to expect. Those who have read The Quantity Theory of Insanity will also be eased into this collection by the knowledge that its unsettling psychiatrist Zack Busner also features in the principle story in Dr Mukti. Busner again plays the supreme anti-hero in a story with much competition for that role. We witness Dr Mukti's decline from diligent psychiatrist to potential patient as Self cruelly twists and stretches what could be a pedestrian tale of mid-life crisis. Mukti, spurred on by professional jealousy, and his friend Elmley, clumsily confronting his own demons, soon find their lives and their future mental health in the hands of Busner.