Sam Mills is clearly an ambitious author. In The Quiddity of Will Self, she has taken on the dangerous task of paying a kind of twisted homage to an author who is known for his unique and often gruesome plot designs and his `sesquipedalian' prose (as many of Mills' characters like to describe it). Will Self is painted in many ways throughout the book, most notably as a God-like figure whose innate 'whatness' is a constant source of inspiration for the bizarre and often deranged characters that she has created. The good news is, that Mills clearly has the talent to match her ambition, and by her own admission spent nine years sculpting this engaging, intelligent and thought-provoking piece. And it shows; each sentence is carefully measured and considered, at no time looking to imitate Self, but one gets the sense that his literary influence has had much the same effect on the author as it has on her characters.
TQOWS is part detective story, part science fiction wet-dream and part philosophical tome, as it deeply and intelligently explores the essence or 'quiddity' of the creative mind. There are some wonderfully inventive plot lines, story threads and conceptual happenings, along with a string of fresh and unique metaphors (which Mills herself appears to justify her love for in the final part of the book). The crowning glory of the book, however, in this reader's opinion, is the thread of philosophical gold that runs through the piece, painting the creative process as an internal essence that if harnessed, would throw the minds of those unfamiliar with artistic greatness into complete chaos. Prof. Self, a character in the book who has no relation to Will, has attempted to distill the essences of great authors, and injects his patients with vials of Hemmingway, DBC Pierre and Burroughs, hoping to plant inside them the seed of greatness and record the results of its invasion. It is a book that drips with love for creativity and art, as well as professing a great, hidden fear of what such invention is capable of.
Laid out in five very different parts, Mills paints the story of an enigmatic and creepy murder of a young girl named Sylvie, found with a knife in her back and made-up through plastic surgery to look like Will Self, and the attempts of several characters to piece together the mystery. In the process of their investigations we are treated to drugs, sex, insecurity and from almost every angle a need to feel accepted in a creative world, as an author, and searching in vain for someone or something to fill the void. We spend time with the WSC (The Will Self Club), who partake in drug-fuelled orgies under the watchful gaze of Self's portrait, and play cryptic games of Cluedo with Self's characters as their cast. And all the while we face an onslaught of bright, cerebral prose that would no doubt make Self himself proud. TQOWS is a novel I found myself flying through, a real page turner, which is quite a feat for a book that boasts such beautiful, challenging prose, but the essence of the tale was so beguiling, just as the essence of Self's genius is in the book, that I was unable to put it down
The Quiddity of Will Self is, in my opinion, an excellent book, tremendously written and beautifully measured, a must for fans of a myriad of genres, and Sam Mills is a name to look out for, though I'm not sure her next work will risk being so ambitious. As it is, she had succeeded in delighting and I wish her every success with the novel.