Saturday, 30 June 2012

My Idea of Fun

Will Self My Idea of Fun (1993)

Going over what actually happens in My Idea of Fun, whatever the novel may be trying to say, it becomes obvious fairly quickly that comparisons will be loose-fitting approximations at best. There's an element of Faust, it could be argued, although Ian Wharton initially has knowledge rudely thrust upon him and the Devil turns out to be someone other than the entirely Crowleyan figure of Samuel Northcliffe, The Fat Controller. One might equally regard My Idea of Fun as a coming of age parable; and there's also the peculiar possibility of it being a novel without any direct precedent.

Self pulls all sorts of supposedly forbidden literary stunts - writing a story without a single remotely sympathetic character, disorientating the reader by offering no distinction between real and imaginary scenarios (problematic for anyone failing to notice that they're reading a piece of fiction, none of which is exactly real in the first place), using words like egregious and thus alienating those who find unfamiliar language intimidating and genuinely believe that Dan Brown's sales figures speak for themselves. Despite all of this, and despite Self claiming I don't write fiction for people to identify with and I don't write a picture of the world they can recognise, his attention to the tedious detail of daily life is so thorough as to border on written photorealism, which in turn lends a disturbing clarity to the more nightmarish elements.

In some senses My Idea of Fun may be considered a satire on aspects of 1990s consumer culture, or more specifically that variation on Stockholm syndrome by which people once raced to be the first to pull the wool over their own eyes, by which they still buy into the norms of status and meaningless convention - American Psycho on a caravan site without the fetishism, sort of... but that's really just for starters, and I'm not sure I'd like to try to pin this novel down to being any one specific thing to the exclusion of any other interpretation. Of all the weird shite I've read, this remains one of the weirdest, and I mean that in a good way.

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