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Walking to Hollywood Paperback – 5 Sep 2011
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'A work full of his trademark hypersensitive invention ... vast inventiveness ... glittering' (Independent on Sunday)
'Dazzling and discomfiting ... a supremely gifted writer and one of our most brilliant and iconoclastic public intellectuals' (GQ)
'Only a writer with Self's panache can hope to pull it off ... the flashes of brilliance make being inside his various heads an exciting, if occasionally alarming, experience' (Independent)
'A familiar mix of inspired satirical observations and his trademark discursiveness ... Self displays sudden turns of phrase that can have breathtaking emotional resonance' (The Times)
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It is a journey into Will Self, and a mind that is both highly articulate yet steeped in problems.
After you spend ages reading material, which feels like an uphill struggle, you are rewarded by views otherwise impossible to reach.
If I'm honest, I nearly gave up a few times and I'm still not sure what I was reading!
The likeness of the cover image to Edvard Munch's "Scream" should indicate where you're heading on this particular read!
Each story has a different feel, all of them being centered on different episodes of the main character's - a writer called Will Self - life. The first features Self's usual cynical humor through his obsessions with scale and particularly with a childhood friend of limited height, the second is a wild and demential psychotic ride through Los Angeles, throwing everything along for the ride, from angry scientologists to a mad Hulk-like rampage through the streets of L.A.
But it's the final story that shines, and it was it that justified the fourth star on my rating. It is a beautifully touching tale of loss - of memory, of identity, of life -, that had me wanting to keep on reading and not leave the book until the very last page. Although the rest of the book was enjoyable, it was not the best I had read of Self - but the last 100 pages compensated for that and are truly Self at its best.
As with some of the other reviewers I found the title section with its abundance of surrealist sidetracking hard going at times,though the other two stories flow a little easier and require less backtracking to find when there's been a scene change or what mode his mind is in.Overall though it was entertaining to sit in on what is at times a celebrity therapy session,although unless you have an IQ over 150 you'll be needing a good dictionary on hand.
The first section, "Very Little", about a dwarf friend from childhood who becomes a successful YBA-style visual artist in later life, I found highly entertaining, especially the "divide by ten, multiply by ten" meme. The third section, "Spurn Head", based on a walk along that rapidly eroding stretch of Yorkshire coastline, I also found highly readable, although the weirdly and inconsistently spelled rendition of the local accent was annoying. Both of these sections could be reasonably described as "Sebaldesque", after the mysterious literary style of W. G. Sebald, mixing fact, fiction, geography, fantasy and photographs, although with far more humour than Sebald.
But the middle section, "Walking to Hollywood", rapidly became for me totally confusing, boring, messy and unreadable. It is founded on a false premise, for starters, that cinema is dead, and that Hollywood has killed it - completely untrue, judging by today's cinema audiences and the huge breadth and depth of films being produced, but an interesting "factoid" on which to hang a chunk of novel. Then we find the narrator character, constantly being played by one of two well-known actors, doing a seemingly pointless walk around Los Angeles over the space of a few days, meeting other film folk, themselves being played by other actors, while all kinds of ridiculous things happen and one scene kind of morphs into another. I found it difficult to work out what was actually going on - nothing wrong with that in itself in a literary novel, but in this case I found that I simply didn't care any more and was desperate to get to the end. Despite the welcome recurrences of Dr Zack Busner and his psychiatric techniques, which will be familiar to readers of other Will Self books, I just found it an absolute chore to get through, and it comprises half of the book.
One thing that Dr Busner might like to analyse, incidentally, is Will Self's apparent need to describe almost every instance of going to the toilet - something which most novelists happily omit!