Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Wednesday 3 April 2024

"Grey area" by Will Self (Penguin, 1993)

Short stories. Neuro-diverse before the term was common.

  • "Between the conceits" - there are 8 ordinary-seeming people who between them control the London population. It's a sort of game, the Londoners used like chess pieces. The methods are minor (getting thousands of people to snub colleagues one morning) and the aims unambitious - getting the Londoners who they control to enjoy a day off.
  • "The Indian mutiny" - A teacher gets the indians in his class to keep discipline in the classroom. The narrator - Ayrian - is allowed to join. When the teacher has a nervous breakdown, the narrator ousts him. He's taken to hospital and kills himself a few weeks later. The narrator feels guilty.
  • "A short history of the English novel" - a couple find that London's waiters are frustrated writers, with brilliant ideas for novels.
  • "Incubus of The impossibility of Self-determination as to desire" - a husband (a prof) invites a female student to stay with his family for a few nights. He gets drunk - "The synaptic gimbals had been unslung and Peter's slendidly meticulous gyroscope of ratiocination fell to the jungly floor of his id"
  • "Scale" - it's in a few sections, each one centred on a meaning of scale that the main character (separated father; opiate addict) is affected by. He lives by a model village. In one section he dreams seeing his cottage in the village, going in and seeing a model cottage within a model cottage, etc - "My most acute anxiety, as I traversed the model village, was that I would be sighted by a human, I was aware that I could not be much larger than a sub-atomic particle, and as such I would be subject to Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. Were I to be in any way observed, not only might I find the direction of my journey irremediably altered, I could even cease to exist altogether!"
  • "Chest" - smog/fog is so bad that cars benefit from radars and people carry around oxygen.
  • "Grey Area" - an admin person in a big organisation writes minutes, etc. Her period is 2 weeks late. I struggled to get through the 31 pages.
  • "Inclusion®" - an anti-depressant drug is secretly tested on the public. It has the effect of making people interested in things they'd previously thought tedious - curling, etc. One patient, an artist, starts to paint again. He (somehow) realises what's going on. There's an explosion at the secret factory. Reality is distorted. The story is related using diary/journal entries and reports. I like the ideas, but 50 pages was rather too much.
  • "The end of the relationship" - A woman leaves her partner, who's been having an affair. She meets a friend, a taxi-driver and a shopkeeper, all about to break up. She returns to her boyfriend with champagne. He tells her to go away - she's the contagious cause of break-ups. She goes to an old friend, whose husband broke up with her that afternoon.

I like several of the formalist/conceptual structures of the pieces, and the details are fun. It's hard to care about the characters. Many don't care about themselves.

Other reviews

  • goodreads
  • Kirkus reviews (Evidence of a savage talent still exists in this melange, but the mesmerizing quality of Self's earlier sordid, in-your-face images is too often absent—while what remains is pedestrian, if not downright dull.)

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