5.0 out of 5 stars One nil
I don't know what you have to do to win a Booker prize, perhaps being the prizewinner is not all it's cracked up to be. No puns intended! This is a superb, memorable novel. Like others, I had to tune in to that droning authorial voice, with its rhythms lifting on points of the pterodactylic umbrella jab jabbing away with pokes from songs of the sixties and seventies,...
Published 3 days ago by armchairsurferrmchair
126 of 156 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Non-linear + stream of consciousness = heavy going mess
Will Self's "Umbrella" spans a century taking three interwoven strands. One features Audrey Dearth, who in 1918 is a munitions worker who falls ill with encephalitis lethargica, a brain disease that spread over Europe after the Great War rendering many of its victims speechless and motionless. She is incarcerated in Friern hospital where, in the early 1970s a...
Published on 10 Aug 2012 by Ripple
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5.0 out of 5 stars One nil,
I don't know what you have to do to win a Booker prize, perhaps being the prizewinner is not all it's cracked up to be. No puns intended! This is a superb, memorable novel. Like others, I had to tune in to that droning authorial voice, with its rhythms lifting on points of the pterodactylic umbrella jab jabbing away with pokes from songs of the sixties and seventies, singin in the rain like a droog, so I would say that though my original thought was I don't think that I can take it, cos it took so long to make it, and I'll never find that recipe again Oooh no...but no, since the cake was left out in the rain etc etc you'd think an umbrella of sorts would help, but no, no, keep on reading keep on listening to the magisterial Self, in its manifold ent-titties, collusions, betrayals, effloozhuns and tricky trick tricks, and don't blink, blink too quickly or shall we say in a mechanick-all fashion or you will not see/saw all that there was not to be, scene. Yes.
126 of 156 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Non-linear + stream of consciousness = heavy going mess,
Will Self's "Umbrella" spans a century taking three interwoven strands. One features Audrey Dearth, who in 1918 is a munitions worker who falls ill with encephalitis lethargica, a brain disease that spread over Europe after the Great War rendering many of its victims speechless and motionless. She is incarcerated in Friern hospital where, in the early 1970s a psychiatrist, Zach Busner wakes her from her stupor using a new drug. In the final thread, in 2010 the asylum has closed and the now retired Busner travels across north London seeking the truth about his encounter with his former patient. While that sounds like a fascinating story in its own right, be warned. Self's approach is ambitiously modernistic making this a very heavy going tome even by Self's standards.
Stream of consciousness books can be challenging but good, non-linear books can be confusing but illuminating. Taken together though they are a mess that no amount of clever word play can rescue.
The narrative is a stream of consciousness epic that doesn't break for silly ideas like chapters, or even many paragraphs, most of which last for two or three pages each. Similarly there is no chronological development or discernable structure and time frames and points of view are spliced together, often within the same paragraph. Most of us don't have the luxury of endless hours in which to read and have to fit reading in around life, necessitating putting a book down at some point. Quite where you are supposed to do this in "Umbrella" is a bit of a mystery. Although picking the book up again was more of a challenge than putting it down.
Add to that Self's penchant for odd voices, which while easier to follow than in say "The Book of Dave" still feature oddities such as using a "v" as a substitute for "th" in what is broadly a cockney dialect, but still distract from the flow, particularly as the utterances are often quite random. Of course, this being a modernistic style, useful indicators such as quotation marks are completely old hat, although he does allow the luxury of italics what sometimes but not always show speech.
Your views on what is an undeniably ambitious novel will depend on your tolerance for this modernistic approach. The title is from a James Joyce quotation and the inference is that this is a modern day "Ulysses". To some, the approach may be intriguing and the connections brought out by the style, but to me it detracted from what might have been an interesting look at psychiatry and the treatment of illness and the changes to that over the last hundred years. I'm all for a radical approach if it sheds new light on these things, but not if it merely obfuscates any message or point as this did for me.
The non-linear and jumpy narrative is like being locked in the mind of someone who clearly is in need of psychiatric help if not medication, and yet where you get glimpses of the story line, the message seems to be about the limitations of this and the problems it causes. This is what is so frustrating. For a few pages at a time, the story line sometimes follows something that you can follow, but then Self seems to think the reader has had enough of that luxury and whips it away before you can say "this is getting good now". It seems to want to say something interesting about mental turmoil and modern day life but is so confusing that this is just lost in the flood.
The experience is rather like listening to a badly tuned short wave radio that keeps jumping between different stations. There's no doubting Self's huge intellect but there is none of his sly humour here that can be so illuminating. I cannot help but wonder if a writer without Self's credentials presented this to their publisher, would it really have been published? I'm not so sure. He is, in my view, a fine journalist and commentator but I'm increasingly of the view that giving him a novel to write is like giving a six year old a catapult.
Of course, I could be quite misguided and just didn't "get it". Certainly the Booker Prize panel disagree with me and have long listed it. The judges have noted that this year the focus is on books that reveal more on second reading, and this is probably true of "Umbrella" - but I won't be in any hurry to find out. One thing is for certain, if last year's judges who emphasised "readability" were still in place, this wouldn't have got a look in.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lose yourself in Self,
This modernist and stream of consciousness novel will not be to everyone's taste. If you need the 'permission' of a chapter end to stop reading, then either don't read this book, or start reading it surrounded by extensive supplies of food and drink and with a toilet close at hand. There are no chapters, no parts, not even a few handy blank lines, just a constant flow of sentences. Treat these sentences like a wonderful word tapestry being woven by Audrey Death, her brother Stanley and Dr Zach Busner, using threads from Edwardian London, the horrors of the World War 1 trenches, and 1970s & 1990s London, and you can start to relax and comprehend what Self is trying to say. I fought this book initially, wanting desperately to understand who and when I was in each sentence before moving onto the next one. In the end, I learnt to absorb long sections and trust that afterwards I would have a sense of what had happened in each of the story lines, which ultimately are one story line.
It's hard work, but worth every moment if you want to reflect on how we are so careless with our fellow human beings.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Zack Busner Is Back,
Will Self is the Hunter S. Thompson cum Luke Reinhardt of our day: witty, erudite and exacting of his readers; Self paints dreary portraits of dreary people in a Freudian (Lucian not Sigmund) fashion that sparks recognition with anyone that has ever written, walked or lost their mind.
This from The Quanity Theory of Insanity:
"I walked and walked and the hospital never got any closer." Absolutely priceless. Self shows the paradigm of twenty-first century media and mental illness and how we need to spend more time in our skulls and less time with the vicarious pleasures of film and TV. National treasure status beckong.
There's more of the same in Umbrella - priceless descriptions of decrepit Britian as it struggles on to another disaster.
4.0 out of 5 stars well written and engrosing,
Well written and a good insight into psychiatry in the 60's. The characters are excellently drawn. Although I feared it might be heavy, I was gripped and am glad I read it.
4.0 out of 5 stars Perseverance is key,
I have never had to urge myself on to finish a book as much as this, but I am glad I did. The stream of consciousness writing style is something I had never encountered before (and not sure I would like to again) but it did suit the book. The narrative jumps from character to different generations to different locations effortlessly and can make it difficult to follow but it just works and is a testament to the writing. Although I'm not eager to read it again I did enjoy it, if you want something different I would recommend this, but make sure you have a lot of will power.
4.0 out of 5 stars Umbrella,
This review is from: Umbrella (Kindle Edition)
It is fair to say that this is very much a marmite book - you will either go with the flow, read and enjoy, or struggle and hate this intriguing novel. It employs modernism, stream of consciousness and the storyline (such as it is) runs between times and characters. The novel takes the viewpoint of two main characters: the psychiatrist Dr Zachary Busner at Friern Hospital and patient Audrey Dearth.
When Busner begins work at Friern Hospital he is allocated two chronic wards. This is a place of endless corridors, psychiatric orderlies who employ "thump therapy" and patients who wear canvas tunics, said to resemble a uniform "for a slave labourer". Busner has an embittered wife, Miriam, and young children. He also has a brother who suffers from a mental illness and an interest in patients suffering from the somnolent-opthalmogic form of encephalitis lethargica ('sleepy sickness'). This came before the Spanish Flu epidemic at the end of WWI and Busner tells his wife about Audrey Dearth, a patient who may be one of hundreds scattered throughout asylums, who suffered the virus and have nothing psychologically wrong with them. Less than impressed, Miriam responds with a plea for him to show less enthusiasm and spend less time poring over patient notes and more with his family. Yet Busner visits other doctors who disagreed with the original diagnosis and attempts to investigate other patients with the same possible condition.
This novel veers between Busner's story and that of patient Audrey Dearth. We are taken through Audrey's life, from her childhood onwards and from Busner's investigations to his memories in later years. I know the building he writes about well, as I live near it, and thought he captured the sheer size and scale of the place beautifully. This is not an easy read - there is a place for both nice relaxing books and ones that require concentration and commitment. Although this book can be difficult at times - you need to keep your mind on the text to know who and when you are reading about - it is worth perservering with and it is enjoyable, with characters you care about, and it is the characters that matter in any novel.
22 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A challenging read - fantastic!,
If you want a real challenge to read, but one that is worth it - this is the book. I read a few interviews with Self which made me curious about the book and I was so glad I bought it as it kept me very happy during a short break away. I was just sorry I didn't have the actual book, just had it on Kindle, so I couldn't show it off in the Departure Lounge, where every other woman was engrossed in 'Fifty Shades'. Anyway, it takes a while to really understand what Self is doing with all the different stories going on and linking up - but that makes it sound deceptively as if there is a linear structure, which there isn't. You have to just go along with it, enjoy the journey but not get too frustrated when he drops a story just as you really want to know what happens next and just as you are really responding to the characters. It is worth the struggle I think and you finish the book in awe at his skill. I especially enjoyed the wide ranging vocabulary Self uses and although I know that can be easily derided, I found it refreshing to be treated as an educated adult for once instead of authors who wouldn't use more obscure words in case their readers were alienated by them. By the end of the book, you do have a full story, by the way - it is all there, plus many other experiences along the way. It won't be to everyone's taste and of course it is easy to level the charge of pretentiousness at Self, but I loved it and actually found it a good read.
2.0 out of 5 stars The language used is somewhat arcane and quite frankly unnecessary.,
This review is from: Umbrella (Kindle Edition)
I know Mr Self is an incredibly clever man but I found this book far too confusing. It jumps around from character to character in a way that is not clear. The language used is somewhat arcane and quite frankly unnecessary.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book will forever be known as the SHOULD have won,
As someone who used to work in the old psych 'bins' I can tell you Will Self nails it, just utterly nails it, the sights, smells, attitudes good and bad - but more than that and more than he's ever done before he brings a real aching humanity to the characters and the pain, joy and tribulations of their lives - it's a great read BUT also a really excellent audio book, if you think the language is a challenge have it read to you, its like Shakespeare it just makes sense when you hear it
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Umbrella by Will Self