Tuesday, 24 July 2018

The Sweet Smell of Psychosis

Will Self The Sweet Smell of Psychosis (1996)
Here's an odd one. I'm not sure I was even aware of its existence prior to coming across a copy in some second hand place. It's a novella, under a hundred pages and arguably more like a lengthy short story with its own binding and illustrations from Martin Rowson, and so I suppose less likely to have turned up in any of the familiar lists of Self's novels. It predates 1997's Great Apes and reads a little like an early effort, something from before he found his stride - which admittedly only works providing you ignore My Idea of Fun, Cock & Bull, and The Quantity Theory of Insanity. It may read like this to me due to a certain overfamiliarity with Self's general style, although it also read somewhat like a parody, like someone taking the piss out of Will Self without quite getting it all nailed down properly. I suspect this is probably an interference pattern arisen from common elements shared by the author and his characters, given that it's a novella about grotesque coke-snorting media types in the employ of a magazine which may as well be Time Out.

They wrote articles about articles, made television programmes about television programmes, and commented on what others had said. They trafficked in the glibbest, slightest, most ephemeral cultural reflexivity, enacting a dialogue between society and its conscience that had all the resonance of a foil individual pie dish smitten with a paperclip.

This additionally articulates some of why I stopped buying The Guradian following the inclusion of several choreographers in a list of the fifty most important persons to have shaped twentieth century culture.

They earnestly debated the opening of themed restaurants, and the demise of experimental opera productions, as if they were matters of millennial import that would define an era. Even on a good day it made Richard feel nauseous.

Anyway, whilst I don't mean to suggest that Self is himself grotesque, I don't get the impression that this one required much fresh research. It's readable, pleasantly lurid and with a wonderful turn of phrase, but the absence of Self's usual preoccupation with the psychiatric profession strikes an odd note, particularly given the obvious psychoses of those described herein; which is why, to me, it feels like an early work, or possibly just something which should have been longer.

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