If there is a theme that runs through this collection of short stories then it has to be drugs. Will Self is a writer that comes with a reputation and he does not shy away from writing difficult stories that have the potential to shock and disturb.
Anyone in any doubt as to what is in store knows pretty quickly what is coming with the first story about two brothers selling crack. There are the inevitable observations about addiction, desperation and the ugliness of wasting thousands on drugs. But there is also a psychological dimension to it that is drawn out in some of the other stories.
By setting the main character in the role of a shrink the thought process about addiction is seen from a different angle. The drugs are never particularly criticised but just shown to destroy minds and lives and fool those who believe they are in control of them that it is the other way round.
There are also tales that have a ghoulish twist with a man deciding he would rather be with insects than his girlfriend in Flytopia. Her decision to go into the spare room, which has become a breeding room for the flies is fatal. They had only just requested more meat to breed on. Those final paragraphs will stick with you.
Even when there is humour, in the case of the story of the little toddler who is speaking business German, it is done with such darkness it is hard to laugh.
But then again a lot of this is designed to stick with you. There are some phrases that are so well put together you can almost imagine Self laughing to himself with satisfaction. Describing the England fans going home from work to the terraces to see the match referring to terraced houses is one example but there are many throughout the book.
What this collection oozes is confidence. This has been written by a writer that knows they have great ability and the language as a result is rich, where it could have been bland, and the stories are risky where they could have been safe. The result is not always comfortable and it is quite provocative but isn’t this what fiction is meant to do? Surely it is meant to take you into dark places you might avoid and it makes you think and that is always a positive.
Version read – Penguin paperback