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The long centrepiece of the triptych is practically unreadable
on 13 March 2011
I must admit that I find the idea of Will Self - the cantankerous man with the deadpan voice, enormous vocabulary and uncompromising left-wing politics - preferable to the literary reality. I'm giving this book just two stars because I found the 215-page central section, "Walking to Hollywood", almost unreadable, and it was a struggle to stick with it to reach the third section.
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!