Will Self

Will Self’s new novel is Phone.

‘Many​ dentists,’ my mother once portentously remarked, ‘are thwarted sculptors.’ No doubt she herself had experienced their creative frustration – and painfully so. She was wearing a full set of dentures before I was born but never told me exactly when she’d acquired them. Perhaps she’d been presented with a pair (and some sort of voucher for the...

Ive​ never been voluntarily committed, or sectioned, either to an asylum or a locked psychiatric ward, but I’ve visited a fair few in my life: it goes with the odd profession of drug addiction – as do weeks and months closeted in rehabilitation centres and private clinics. My regular visits to the locked ward at the Royal Free Hospital in London, when I was still in my teens,...

Diary: Cocaine

Will Self, 5 November 2015

When​ I began taking cocaine in the late 1970s a gram cost between £60 and £80. The sixty-quid stuff was flogged by patchouli-smelling proto-goths in black Lycra who wormed about in the ’burbs. It was a dusty concoction of mannitol (a sugar alcohol with many therapeutic uses, including relieving constipated babies), procaine (cocaine’s anaesthetising but non-euphoric...

After working​ on his film adaptation of William Burroughs’s Naked Lunch (1991), David Cronenberg apotheosised both the writer and himself by claiming his screenwriting and Burroughs’s literary style had synergised. Cronenberg apparently mused that were Burroughs to die he might write his next novel. Burroughs expired in 1997, and although Cronenberg has directed many films...

Diary: My Typewriters

Will Self, 5 March 2015

When​ I was a child I perved over my mother’s typewriters; first, her beautiful olive green Olivetti Lettera 22 with American keys, then later her IBM golf-ball electric which seemed to explode into kinesis if you touched it. I picked up an ancient Underwood of my own in a junk shop and used it to hammer out comedic plays. By the time I wanted to write less childish things, my mother...

The Frisson

Will Self, 23 January 2014

With Patrick Keiller’s work a suitable place to begin would seem to be the end – specifically The End (1986), the first film by him to incorporate the subject matter and use the techniques that came to typify his mature style. Seventeen minutes long, and photographed in the autumn of 1983 by Keiller and his sometime collaborator (and full-time partner), Julie Norris, The End...

Diary: Battersea Power Station

Will Self, 18 July 2013

‘Rome completely bowled me over!’ Hitler declared on returning to Germany after his 1938 state visit to Italy. Mussolini had laid on a grand night-time tour that climaxed in a visit to the Colosseum, which – according to Christopher Woodward in his excellent In Ruins – ‘was lit from inside by red lamps so that, as if ablaze, it cast a bloody glow on to the grass...

Diary: Video Games

Will Self, 8 November 2012

I wonder if Northrop Frye played video games. It’s true that it’s difficult to imagine the doyen of North American literary criticism with his pouchy features shivering over the levers while the reflected white-line paddles of Pong tracked up and down his spectacle lenses; yet when it – the first true video game – hit the arcades, Frye was just sixty. Such was his...

It hits in the gut

Will Self, 8 March 2012

‘Architecture,’ Owen Hatherley states in his essay ‘The Brutishness of British Modernism’, ‘unlike the other arts, can’t be ignored, can’t be passively consumed, not if you have to live in it.’ His published writings thus far have been a stinging lash across the back of current architectural criticism – a necessary corrective to its supine state. However, the extent to which he succeeds in assessing contemporary British architecture actively – as someone living and working within it – remains debatable. Hatherley is ostensibly a critic in the mode of Reyner Banham.

Diary: Walking out of London

Will Self, 20 October 2011

In the first few years of the last decade I undertook a series of what I called – with a nod to Iain Sinclair’s circumambulation of London – ‘radial walks’. These were tramps of between three and five days from my home near the city’s centre out into its hinterland, following either a cardinal or an ordinal point of the compass, depending on which direction...

While John Kasarda shares the title page of this scientific romance masquerading as a work of urban theory, Aerotropolis was written by Greg Lindsay alone. Kasarda, a professor at the University of North Carolina’s business school, may be a peculiar sort of Johnson, but Lindsay, a business journalist, is nonetheless his committed Boswell. A Boswell who, in search of his subject’s zeitgeist wisdom, once mounted a three-week exploration of ‘Airworld’ – as Kasarda calls it – by jetting from terminal to terminal around the globe but never exiting through the door marked ‘arrivals’. Why? Because it is Lindsay’s belief that Kasarda is the most important urban theorist alive today, a man who has fully anticipated the shape the future city must have and who has moved to make it a reality.

Fanfaronade: James Ellroy

Will Self, 2 December 2010

When James Ellroy’s latest cod-cosmic rehash of his troubled – and troubling – life arrived on my doorstep I assumed the business of reacquainting myself with the terrain shouldn’t be that difficult. The Hilliker Curse: My Pursuit of Women is, on the face of it, a substantiation of Ellroy’s previous memoir, My Dark Places, in which he employed the true-crime plot...

Diary: On the Common

Will Self, 25 February 2010

Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time has become something of a badge to be worn with pride by the contemporary British dilettante. I often find myself groping for conversation, when my interlocutor, perhaps sensing my abstraction, will reveal that she listens to – and loves – the Radio 4 discussion programme on the history of ideas. I, too, am happy to concede that I’m an In Our Time fan, preferring to catch up on it via podcasts listened to on my iPod when I’m walking the dog. There is always a measure of surprise – from one dilettante to another – when we admit to this fondness for Bragg’s programme. In part, this has to be because of the peculiar position he himself occupies in the sixth-form common room of British culture.

Not a great decade to be Jewish

Will Self, 11 February 1993

Like a Member of Parliament about to enter a debate, I feel that at the outset I should declare an interest – the influence of Woody Allen’s comic style on my own. Two out of the three collections of humorous pieces included in this bumper volume were my primers, my textbooks, the canonical forms to which I have returned time and again when considering what it is to be funny in print.’

Wizard Contrivances: Will Self

Jon Day, 27 September 2012

‘I have forgotten my umbrella,’ Nietzsche wrote in the margins of an unpublished manuscript. Whether he wanted to remind himself of the phrase, which he put in inverted commas, or of...

Read More

Out of Puff: Will Self

Sam Thompson, 19 June 2008

A civilised man travels into the wilderness, and is bewildered. You might call this the Heart of Darkness narrative paradigm. Mr Kurtz is fearsomely civilised, ‘an emissary of pity, and...

Read More

According to Hannibal Hamlin, in Psalm Culture and Early Modern English Literature (2004), English versions and translations of the Book of Psalms, the original book of Dave – supposedly...

Read More

Bottoms Again

Jerry Fodor, 19 June 1997

Archimedes thought that he could move the world if only he could get outside of it, and the same idea inspires writers in the transcendental genre of fiction. Find some place sufficiently far out...

Read More

Reluctant Psychopath

Colin MacCabe, 7 October 1993

The photograph of the author on the jacket is warning enough. He is dressed all in black, poised as though ready to pounce; his eyes fix you through a cloud of smoke. The cigarette, which is...

Read More

Nouvelle Vague

Anthony Quinn, 7 January 1993

Readers making their way through Michael Bracewell’s latest novel may gradually become aware of a small but persistent ache: it comes of the author nudging them in the ribs. There is no...

Read More

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences