Psycho Too

By Will Self


Will Self is a keen student of la dérive, a mode of enquiry practiced by French Situationists in the 1950s: drifting on foot through an unfamiliar place and taking in the ambience—the lay of the land, the light and weather, immediate attractions and spontaneous encounters—to glean how it affects our emotions and behavior: a psychogeography. Self might add food, art, music, and architecture to the above in fashioning this collection of peppery, unsettling vignettes. He is not an amused, debonair boulevardier, but rather a bodacious flaneur—gothic, pugnacious—outraged and tormented everywhere he goes by the whole consumerist/industrial calamity that sends him into a surreally existential lather. Keep him trimmed—say, 800 words per dérive—and he draws razory, jet-propelled, often scathing place portraits; give him too much rope, however, and the caffeinated verbosity burns too much oxygen. As in his earlier volume, Psychogeography, he starts with a longish piece, here a rant featuring Dubai City: “a buy-to-let scheme for oil bunce and capital flight; drug, gun and whoring money; a great dung heap of pelf.” It’s a trenchant mug shot, and Dubai deserves the thrashing, but Self whips the horse dead and whips some more. Better are the 50+ quick, fierce sketches, each as arresting as the burp of an automatic weapon: he takes a walk, he engages in astutely freewheeling association, he creates an intense little world on the page. Ralph Steadman’s artwork catches the mood of Self’s progress—spidery ink-pocked phantasmagoria, waxy with menace, twisted, hallucinatory—stepping out and into the likes of Margate and Baghdad, Easter Island and the Isle of Thanet, haunted forests, a hermit’s hut, and the close precincts of a bath house, where the inmates’ “brawny pink limbs floated in a vaporous haze…you could easily imagine yourself deep in the heart of the Amazon, with a bunch of Bororo crazed on yoppo”—an affecting ambiance if there ever was one.

(from the Barnes & Noble Review)