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Dr. Mukti and Other Tales of Woe [Hardcover]

Will Self
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
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Book Description

5 Jan 2004
Shiva Mukti is a hardworking and conscientious psychiatrist, who, in the inauspicious surroundings of St Mungo's - a central London hospital of more than average decrepitude - does his level best to staunch the flow of mental illness. But Mukti is not a happy man, beset by thwarted ambition and sexual frustration, he now finds himself in thrall to the more successful and urbane Dr Zack Busner, consultant psychiatrist at Heath Hospital, and an originator of the once modish Quantity Theory of Insanity. Why is it that Busner seems so intent on fostering a professional relationship with Mukti? Is it his way of putting his junior colleague in his place? Or is Busner - as Mukti begins to suspect - a member of a sinister cabal? And what about the schizophrenic patients Busner refers to Mukti for his opinion, are they merely sick people, or in fact human weapons in a bizarre psychological duel?

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; First Edition edition (5 Jan 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747565317
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747565314
  • Product Dimensions: 21 x 14.8 x 3.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,062,691 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

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.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exquisitely deranged 6 Mar 2005
I sincerely hope that Will Self doesn't become one of those "urban chic" autors, niched into a corner where only pseudo-intellectuals, beatniks and non-conformist liberals will bother to seek out, while the rest of the UK just remember him as the 'gaunt weird one' who filled Mark Lamarr's seat on "Shooting Stars".
Will Self is indeed a fine writer of high calibre, with a rich extensive vocabulary, and prose that can paint vivid pictures of the pomp and squalor of the urban environment and human condition all in the breadth of a single paragraph. Simultaneously reverential and scatalogical regardless of his subject matter.
Dr. Mukti and other tales of woe offer a collection of humorous and disturbing tales, simultaneously eccentric and eclectic as well as vulgar, yet always beautifully crafted (as is the prose). "Dr. Mukti" serves up a wide variety of subjects, in bite-size chunks, with a rich and dark sense of humour and a twisted but yet lucid and very real perception through the eyes of his characters.
An excellent introduction to a very verbose and far-reaching author who does not flinch at anything, but who, at times can be also a little confusing, but certainly a recommended read to anyone who would like something a little more cerebral in their novels. Newcomers to Mr. Self will be stunned that the guy who outweirded Vic and Bob can display such savage intelligence, and readers well-versed in Self's books will appreciate the return of such characters as Dr. Zack Busner. and more ascerbic observations on every aspect of human mentality.
Miss out on Will Self, and you're missing out on something very unique amongst the bookshelves.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Could do better 23 Feb 2006
By Neb
The title story, taking up half the book, is Self at his deadpan best - a tale of spiralling absurdity with a conclusion so simple and devoid of morality it stops you in your tracks. No contemporary writer gets to the heart of life's meaningless like Self. The rest of the book however is a so-so affair: "Walks with Ord", a story that has been published as an exclusive twice in the Independent on Sunday - which his wife edits - is particularly boring and pointless. "Dr Mukti" shows that Self still has the twisted genius that led to "Grey Area" and "Great Apes", but the rest of the book left me thinking that he just isn't trying hard enough.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Seriously Comic 7 Mar 2011
Will Self
Dr Mukti and Other Tales of Woe

From the start the reader realises that Dr Mukti, a consultant psychiatrist specialising in schizophrenia is as nutty as a fruitcake. And very soon one becomes aware that Mukti's efforts to understand his ridiculous patients, his own inner workings and the absurd world he lives in are doomed to failure. Nevertheless, Shiva Mukti persists heroically in trying to explain the inexplicable. He cannot help others, but can he help himself? This is the comic world of Chaplin and Reggie Perrin, where we identify with the little man caught up in a vast mechanical cosmos, but here with no prospect of escape. It is terrifying, nightmarish and recognisable as essentially the human condition. Surrounded by banality, man yet aspires to spirituality, to something beyond, something that seems, for a time, to make sense.

Shiva Mukti, a second generation immigrant from Uttar Pradesh is an ambitious man. He bears the name of a god and he would like to become a god. But that takes a long time, many generations, indeed countless eons. He lives in a suburban house in North London, crowded with ancient gummy relatives who live on balled rice and television. They are mostly silent, but if roused can jabber nonsensically. His only refuge is work, which although a complete farce, is a temporary escape from madness or suicide. But Mukti is not only schizoid, but paranoid. Recovering from a session of psychiatric treatment he decides to go back to work, but `at once, the thought of the Bakerloo Line to Oxford Circus, then the Central Line to Tottenham Court Road , became frighteningly alien. The journey would be interminable, the brute power of the metropolis would be scored into every electric-blue check of the tube carriage's seats.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic - A New Will Self Fan 10 Jun 2004
I'm almost embarassed to admit it but my introduction to Will Self was the BBC's Grumpy Old Men series. In the interview(s) with Will I was captivated by his use of language and ability to express an opinion with force, humour and clarity. Here, finally, I had discovered an educated, articulate, challenging and passionate personality that captivated me with every sentence.
So, to Waterstones I hurried (sorry Amazon - I am a big customer of yours but nothing beats actually picking up a book, buying it and then reading it in store with a coffee). Dr Mukti reinforced my impression of Will. The dialogue is fantastic, there are messages throughout, true reflections of culture and society and, for me at least, an education. And when it comes to this last point I am elated. Finally, here is someone who seems to have no hesitation in expressing a view with no spin. The British media (inc. Newspaper, radio, TV) worries me intensely. I feel a victim to news management. In Will Self there is perhaps a chink of daylight through which reality can be observed.
Hanging on his every word (his back catalogue on order),
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