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Great Apes [Hardcover]

Will Self
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)

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Book Description

15 May 1997
Some people lose their sense of proportion, others their sense of scale, but Simon Dykes, a middle-aged, successful London painter, has lost his sense of perspective in a most disturbing fashion. After a night of routine, pedestrian dabauchery, traipsing from toilet to toilet, and imbibing a host of narcotics on the way, Simon wakes up cuddled in his girlfriend's loving arms. Much to his dismay, however, his girlfriend has turned into a chimpanzee. To add insult to injury, the psychiatric crash team sent to deal with him as he flips his lid is also comprised of chimps. Indeed, the entire city is overrun by clever primates, who, when they are not jostling for position, grooming themselves, or mating some of the females, can be found driving Volvos, hanging out on street corners, and running the world. Nonetheless convinced that he is still a human, Simon is confined to the emergency psychiatric ward of Charing Cross Hospital, where he becomes the patient of Dr. Zack Busner, clinical psychologist, medical doctor, anti-psychiatrist, and former television personality -- an expert at the height of his reign as alpha male. As Busner attempts to convince him that 'everyone who is fully sentient in this world are chimpanzees, ' Simon struggles with the horrifying delusion that he is really a human trapped in a chimp's body.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; First American Edition edition (15 May 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747529876
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747529873
  • Product Dimensions: 20.6 x 15 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 647,708 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'Exultantly hallucinogenic ... achieves the rare feat of temporarily altering the reader's perspective' (Guardian)

'Prodigiously original and very funny' (Observer)

'Excellent ... as in the best satires, this journey through the alien world of chimps is at heart a deeply serious (and even moving) call for us to reconsider the shortcomings of the human world' (Alain de Botton, The Times)

'His most daring and ambitious work ... genuinely provocative and entertaining' (Brian McCabe, Scotsman) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Book Description

Will Self's stunning, hallucinogenic satire --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Selfish Ape 21 Jun 2008
To begin with I struggled with this book. I have never had to reach for the dictionary so often and I started to wonder if this was pure author self-indulgence. I had a similar sentiment of being privy to the personal bugbears of Will Self in his deliverance of unsubtle digs at various categories of people, for example sycophants, through the vehicle of ape behaviour. There is only so many times that variations on a joke about "ass-licking" can make you smile. However, setting the Selfish agenda aside and persevering through the first chapters I enjoyed the book more and more. The interest and challenge emerged in being asked to view human behaviour in its proximity to that of other apes. As the main character Simon Dykes struggled to accept that he was not a human being but an ape, the way people behave towards each other came to the fore. In the end it was even hopeful in revealing some overlay of human dignity on an animal foundation. The book is long and rambling but there is enough here to make it worth reading. Its last line is almost poignant and at the same time made me laugh more than the previous 400 pages.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Funny, rude, disturbing, rude...and funny 31 Aug 2004
By Nigel Collier VINE VOICE
The book starts with the preparations for the central character, Simon Dyke's, latest exhibition. Dyke is a young London artist who lives in a world of rubbish drugs, socialising in shallow artistic circles, with life punctuated by meaningless and tawdry acts of copulation, the latter being described in really unpleasant and almost medically graphic language. We assume at the start of the book that we are dealing with a regular London, populated by human beings. After a night of low grade cocaine, slightly better Es and the inevitable unthinking intercourse, followed by lurid dreams where he and his girlfriend are chimps violently mating, Dykes awakes to find that he really is a chimp...and London is now populated with chimps. He is hospitalised at Charing Cross and his condition becomes the clinical case for the consultant in neurology and an eminant psycho-physiologist - both of course chimps. There Dykes mental breakdown and belief that he is human are investigated.
Once you get over the opening of the book - which will put you off enjoying sex for a goodish while - and move into the London of the chimps, the humour really kicks in. Really the joke is no deeper than a PG Tips commercial - the juxtaposition of putting chimpanzees in human clothing in a human world - but it is superbly realized. You'll come to love the terms 'pant-hoot', 'knuckle-walk' and 'go bipedal'. The way Self handles this anthropomorphising of chimps, and primatomorphising of humans, is just genius.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Never finished 6 May 2010
I ran out of stamina and terminated my read of this novel with less than 100 pages to go. The first few chapters of the book,a human morphing into a monkey, were interesting and I wanted to read more to see where Self would take it.
The answer was nowhere. Did Self know exactly where he was taking the story before he wrote the book? My thought is he did not. Self has a rich vocabulary with which to carry the reader along, alas, even his verbose style is insufficient to keep the reader interested.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Great Apes 20 Aug 2010
Great Apes is the second Will Self book I have read recently in an attempt to familiarise myself with critically acclaimed modern fiction (the other was "How the Dead Live"). The book focuses on an alternate world which is deliberately identical to our world save that the society is characterised by intelligent chimps. The juxtaposition is the main source of Self's humour. The story is based around the character Simon Dykes who is an eminent artist who experiences a form of drug induced mental breakdown in which he believes that he's the only human within that society (albeit trapped within a chimps body).The story evolves from this episode and centres on attempts by the chimp society and particularly an alternative physchiatrist (and former TV personality)named Zak Busner to rehabilitate him.

Self creates a very detailed, and I found, somewhat disturbing image, of an evolved chimp society where despite their intelligence the fundamentals of chimp behaviour are layered into a cosmopolitan London landscape, i.e mass public sex chains, displays of swollen rear ends as a formal greeting, hierarchical dominance displays and so forth. This is intriguing at first however I soon became tired of the often unnecessarily lewd and sexually perverse material. It is incomparable with a true satire such as Swift's Gullivers Travels.

What strikes me about Self's writing is that he uses flowery prose and words that you have never heard of to flesh out his narrative. Most of which is unnecessary, surely the mark of a good author is to guide the reader through an enjoyable and comprehensible narrative! Self attempts to impose upon the reader how clever and verbose he is often by the range of vocabulary used!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars a fantastic read
As others have mentioned, there are a lot of big words. I did not know the meaning of every word on every page, but have never reached for a dictionary. Read more
Published 6 months ago by bel23
2.0 out of 5 stars Satire with a fist
This is a leaden satire which soon becomes tedious. The world has been taken over by very promiscuous chimpanzees who behaved like humans in some respects. Read more
Published 9 months ago by C. J. Tyler
3.0 out of 5 stars Scratches an itch
Many years ago I used to be a regular reader of Will Self's Sunday column and developed an appreciation of his humour and style. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Manchild by proxy
4.0 out of 5 stars Well crafted fun
I really enjoyed this book once it got going. It certainly doesn't deserve some of the bad reviews I have read on here. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Craig Rimmer
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting...
I really loved the concept of this book, a human who wakes up one day to find himself a chimpanzee. Very cleverly written, Will Self takes a satirical look at humanity by... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Amy
4.0 out of 5 stars Odd start, great story
Took a while to warm up but after the twist about 25% in the story really picked up. Really enjoyable.
Published 12 months ago by MR D J BRUNNING
3.0 out of 5 stars If you like Will Self
then you will like this. That's because it's by Will Self.
But you do always get a strong feeling that you know which writer most impresses Will Self.
Published 12 months ago by Mark Crompton
2.0 out of 5 stars Not an easy read
I have not read anything by this author before, so I accept that it may just be my reaction to his style. Read more
Published 12 months ago by William Sylvester
1.0 out of 5 stars Thank goodness for the inbuilt kindle dictionary!
Why use a normal word when you can use an obscure one? I'm fairly well-read, but I had to use the kindle dictionary several times per page. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Mrs. Deborah R. Barnes
1.0 out of 5 stars Not so great
I was looking forward to reading this book but the anticipation soon evaporated a few pages in . I never got to grips with the writing style and didn't feel any warmth or empathy... Read more
Published 13 months ago by S. Beattie
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