on 4 November 2012
The way "The Book of Dave" was recommended to me, I expected a fictional comedy not a tragedy. And what a tragedy it was... written as the part biography of the present day tragic hero-cum-taxi driver, Dave Rudman, and the narrative of a future dystopian and much dispersed and unrecognisable Britain, the plot and characters are contrived to the extreme to heighten the element of dystopian fantasy on the one hand, and to create as much confusion and frustration in the reader on the other. While the plot understandably needs to flash back and fore between the present and future, it is doubtful that it needs to chunk and shuffle the sequential narrative of the present and the future as much as it does. While the glossary at the back of the book does help with some of the phonetic transcription and vagaries of a supposedly east London dialect, it does not explain every piece of quirky vocabulary, only adding to the reader's frustration. Elements of the plot and characters are left inadequately explored and explained: the existence of the motos on Ham? How did they come into being? Descended from what? When exactly did the world 'madeinchina' flood take place? What the hell happens to Carl and Bom when they walk over the bank to meet their fate?
A novel-ish novel, but too many twists and turns to make it truly enjoyable.
on 30 January 2009
Will Self is an author that is a bit hit and miss with people, people either love his quirky tales and devour him or people are put off by the fact that he can come across as being too clever or pompous he can also be seen as being dark and this book is quite bleak, well very bleak, but he is an author that if you work at reading you will get so much out of. `The Book of Dave' is set in the recent past and the distant future. The recent past tells the tale of Dave Rudman a London taxi driver and the lead up to his marriage and then onto its break up, a break up that affects him so much he writes a book to his estranged son. A book that is discovered in the distant future and spawned a major religion, in fact everyone lives by `The Book of Dave' or else. Self uses this present to show us just what could happen in the future, and it's not the prettiest of pictures.
This is by no means a quick or easy read. Firstly Dave is not instantly a hero or a likeable chap, he is normal, extremely flawed and at first I just thought he was a waste of space, my opinion did change as his character did. The alternating chapters between the future and the recent past are made more complicated by two things, firstly is the fact that they are not in chronological order, secondly you need to learn some Mokni. Self has done something which I was originally annoyed by slightly, the lazy reader in me, and then very impressed by... he has created his own future version of cockney based not on rhyming slang but on phonetics. I should add that there is a glossary in the back of the book that helps you, though a note in the front to tell you that would be helpful as I know that lots of people put the book down after finding the Mokni a challenge and not knowing the glossary is there.
The fact that it's not in chronological order is slightly confusing but many writers use this style in order that by the end everything slots into place and with this book it does, and it has some very clever twists. My only slight problem was all the same names in the distant future, I got totally confused a few times, however with perseverance I was fine in the end. People will either love this book or they will hate it, it's not for everyone. However if you persevere it's a very clever story from a very clever author and one that I would recommend as being worth the effort.
With this 2006 novel, Will Self once again attempts to marry his (sometimes overambitious) verbal dexterity with his take on a modern London zeitgeist, all dressed up as something of a futurist parable and, for me, he succeeds on pretty much every level. Casting a disturbed London cabbie (Dave Rudman) as a divine metaphor is a pretty funny concept in itself, but then Self brilliantly uses the idea to create parallel narratives (whose interrelationships are revealed gradually), one charting the 'modern day' (early 3rd millennium) experiences of Dave with his marital and parental difficulties, and the other, set some centuries hence (AD - geddit?), in which Dave's 'philosophy' (on parenting, in particular) has been resurrected to form the basis of a future society in which the (morphed) cabbies' Knowledge and PCO (Public Carriage Office) are all pervading - the new religion, as it were.
As with pretty much everything I have read by Self, The Book Of Dave is certainly not an easy read, with its constant time-shifting between its two streams of narrative, and (in Self's future fantasy world) the invention of an entire new language, Mokni, cleverly derived from modern day 'cabbie-speak' - where days are divided into 'tariffs' (corresponding to taxi charging times) and 'changeover' represents the times at which children switch between estranged parents (Self, helpfully, provides an explanatory glossary - a la A Clockwork Orange). Although Self's novel can be read as (and indeed was inspired by) thoughts of how religious doctrines can be manipulated into dictatorial regimes, it is equally a, by turns, cynical, darkly comic and compassionate tale of a modern man's (psychological) struggle with his inner self (no pun intended) and his feelings of love, betrayal and fatherly longing.
Whatever, it is a novel well worth persevering with and, for me, is one of the most impressive novels I have read about (British) man's place in the (early 21st century) 'modern world'.
I suspect this is not a book for the masses.
As other reviewers have noted, the novel does have two strands narrated across alternating chapters - one set in the very recent past following Dave the Cabbie and one in the far future, where Dave the Cabbie's demented ramblings have sparked off a new world religion.
I suspect that if one had the patience, there is a work of genius bursting to get out. The references from the future turn up later in the text as deriving from the past. Read across is not always obvious, and one comes to accept eccentricities from the future before realising how far out of context they have become from references in the present.
The phonetically rendered vernacular is irritating, although I rather liked cloakyfings. But as with other texts written in vernacular, the use of it becomes both less frequent and less irritating as the novel progresses. And underneath it all is a brilliantly detailed vision of a future dystopian society.
The plots in the two stories are set out in non-linear style and each has a cast of similarly named characters, makign it quite difficult to follow. However, each plot is engaging in its own way. And whislt the Dave the Taximan story is the most gripping, the far future story is more poignant because of its finality. The Dave the Taximan story offers a rationale for the later events, but one knows, ultimately, where the story will end up. The downside of the interleaved narratives, of course, is that the penultimate chapter has to reach a crescendo, and then the last chapter has to work up to a second one when you really feel as though the story's finished.
The characters themselves are less well drawn in the future narrative than the complex characters of the recent past. Dave the Cabbie is not the racist, mysoginist bigot portrayed in the blurb. In fact, he is repelled by his colleagues who are that way inclined. He is caring and sensitive, and that is probably his downfall as he finds his life spinning out of control. This adds to the irony of Dave's book becoming a sacred text. There are wonderful cameos from the Skip Tracer and the Fighting Fathers (or whatever they called themselves).
Overall, this is a wonderful and funny satire on the nature of religion and personal destiny, along with some dazzlingly imaginative speculation of a far future revisitation of mediaeval values. It is heavy going, though, with dense plotting and lengthy detail. Worth it, though, and it deserves to get somewhere in the annual awards round.
on 16 November 2014
I have read them all. For me this is his most 'out-there'. Packed with vision and wonderful ideas, as well as a very possible scenario for our planet. Beautifully crafted and surreal, the story and the telling of it are from an imagination that leaves me in awe. Yes, he makes the reader work at it a little as always, but the leaps and twists are very rewarding.
His work is not for everyone..........but if you have read any of his others and liked them at all, this is a very good bet.
The plot is too good to spoil in a review.....be surprised!
on 4 November 2009
I've not read a Will Self book before, so didn't know what to expect. The Mokni gave me a little trouble, but, to be honest, deciphering it was the most entertaining part of the read. I finished it without realising there was a dictionary at the back of the book, so have little sympathy with those who say that use of terms like 'arpee' make the book impenetrable. I enjoyed Burgess' Clockwork Orange for much the same reasons.
Unfortunately I have to agree with other reviewers that the book simply drags in too many places, and some of the cross-references are a bit of a stretch (like the 'beastly man' comment. It occurred when he was trying to dig the book up, so if it wasn't transcribed onto the metal plates, how did it become part of the culture?).
Overall it is worth a read as a satire, but not one I'll be re-reading any time soon. It is simply too cumbersome a read to be truly enjoyable.
on 11 July 2012
Phew, Self doesn't half make you work for your entertainment.
I can see why so many people dropped off before the half way mark - the chapters in the AD (After Dave) periods are written in mockney which is frankly inpenetrable. As a mockney speaker myself I struggled with the way its presented, though you do get used to it. Also I found some of the terminology (Decaux, irony, budout and especially toyist) rather laboured, but others fun (foglamp, screenwash, the tarrifs and cloakyfings).
As the book progresses it gets easier (when 'arpee' is used more and the Mockney less). The plot moves a lot better after you reach the half way point and I went from: can I be arsed to carry on with it, to oh go on then, let's find out.
Whilst it's amusing and clever, knowing London well greatly helped for the parts that he's being particularly *clever* or tongue-in-cheek about London, you do have to know the place to appreciate it. For example when our characters arrive in Nu London and see the 'hilltop Manors of Millwall and Deptford...Bermondsey Hills' - readers with a living knowledge of London will crack a knowing smile. However, for People outside the capital, let alone outside the British Isles, I imagine it would be a struggle of a read. I also have got to the end of it and can work out the real names of Not, Cot, Wyc, Lut, Chi etc but cannot for the life of me get Bril. Any suggestions welcome.
Will Self is clearly highly intelligent and the premise for this book is both amusing and clever. Effectively, a cab driver, Dave, who is going through a tough time in his personal life, leaves a book that is discovered many years into the future when it is revered as some religeous iconographic document that leads to a race of "believers". It clearly has great comic potential and has an interesting view on the origins of belief and faith. The problem comes in the parts set in the future where the language is tough to follow. I was lucky enough to see the author give a reading of part of this book and in his voice it really was both funny and clever. But that's the problem - while it works aurally, visually it's such a slog that I found myself longing for the parts of the book set in the time of Dave. It's a shame because the idea is thought provoking and some aspects of the way Dave's biggoted views are taken in the future world are both hilarious and scary. I normally favour books over any other medium - but in this case if you find it on an audiobook (I don't know if one exists) then it would be worth investigating. I found the book itself to be verging on pretentious though due to the complexity of the language.
on 4 January 2014
Will Self doesn't come across as someone who's company I would enjoy, but I thought I'd give this book a try as the synopsis sounded really interesting. Without getting into any specifics, a book written by a deadbeat London cabbie (Dave) has given birth to a rather dystopian England whose inhabitants worship Dave as their God. Due to the content of what Dave wrote, the new English society is dysfunctional mess consisting of generally confused individuals living unpalatable lives. Throw into this some mythical pig / human beasts and you have this novel.
The idea of a future society based on the ramblings of a profligate appealed to me, but ultimately I wasn't overwhelmed with this book and was pretty relieved to get to the end.
on 6 October 2013
I believe this book will be read and admired a century from now: it is that good. Even a little information would risk spoiling your enjoyment of both narratives, one of which is the genesis of the dystopian other. There is a glossary provided as alternate chapters are written with reference to a future dialect but the language is well crafted and I read the glossary once and only referred back to it two or three times (I did read TBoD over three days, which probably helped).
The emotional content is such that TBoD is fresh in my mind 1000+ days on from finishing it even although it's subject matter has no parallels with my life.