Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Walking to Hollywood

Will Self Walking to Hollywood (2010)
Returning for what seems like the umpteenth time to the subject of fiction spilling over into real life, as it did with both 1985 and The Cornelius Chronicles to one degree or another, here's Walking to Hollywood, which I hadn't even heard of prior to stumbling across it in the book store. Perhaps my curiosity summoned it into existence.

Having Ralph Steadman design the cover was clearly no arbitrary choice, it being an acknowledgement of the kinship between this and Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, as illustrated by Steadman. I never actually made it through Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which I understand to be essentially autobiographical filtered through dangerous quantities of hard drugs with a whole lot of fibbing tossed in where appropriate. That said, I very much enjoyed The Curse of Lono, also by Hunter S. Thompson and Ralph Steadman, and Walking to Hollywood is in the same tradition.

It's autobiographical in so much as Will Self loves walking, and this is a book about walking, and I'm pretty sure this is a true story, literally for most of its page count and figuratively for the rest; and it's autobiographical in so much as the main character is an author by the name of Will Self, and an author who believes that the best way to understand territory is to walk it, so that's what he does.

Walking to Hollywood divides into three short stories, three main walks unified by a number of themes in such a way as to feel very much part of a whole without the reader, or at least this reader, being quite sure why. The first part deals with Self's fixation with scale as personified by a dwarf of his presumably imaginary acquaintance - an artist who fills the world with elephantine representations of his own image - although this is a fixation I'm not sure I'd
ever actually noticed. The projection of a larger than life image informs the walk to Hollywood, undertaken as a quest to discover who or what killed the film industry - killed meaning turned all to shit in this case; and this section becomes increasingly weird, being written as the film of the book of the film with Self alternately trying to work out whether he's played by David Thewlis or Pete Postlethwaite, finding himself turned away by the Church of Scientology, and then teaming up with Scooby Doo.

The perplexing thing was that during the hundred-year hegemony of the movie everything had been filmed - including films themselves. Actors had played historical personages, and those personages had also played themselves, while the actors that had played them appeared in other movies - playing themselves. This poly-dimensional cat's cradle of references had snared plenty of people with reality-testing abilities far better than my own, and I maintained a certain amused tolerance for the way I lost myself in fugal ruminations...

I'm not sure we really discover just who killed the art of film in the end, although there are some great arguments thrown up in the process of investigation, plenty of engagingly hallucinogenic surrealism, and an immensely satisfying demolition of Mike Myers. If anyone was waiting for a Faction Hollywood novel, then this is probably it.

The final section follows Self walking a crumbling coastal path in northern England, a route which is
gradually being reclaimed by the sea. Whilst all sorts of themes associate this final walk with its predecessors, I found it difficult to really settle on any one theme as being of greatest or even particular significance; and this is maybe the point, namely that the individual needs to walk the territory in order to achieve a true understanding. Second hand testimony, whether the Hollywood version starring David Thewlis as Will Self or just me trying to describe this stuff to whoever may be reading, is never entirely reliable. So whilst the first two parts dissect territories, both physical and psychological, possibly the conclusion may dissect the very fact of there even being territory to discuss, represented as the path, homes, and even villages gradually dissolving into the sea.

I can't even tell whether what I've written here amounts to anything coherent in relation to the book, or whether it's all bollocks, just a chain of vague ideas which seem related and can be nicely strung together like one of those child's games with the plastic monkeys. The important thing to take away from this is that Walking to Hollywood is pretty damned incredible, possibly even Self's best.

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