Friday, October 30, 2009

The Book of Dave

The Book of Dave by Will Self
Hardcover; 495 pages, including glossary
Bloomsbury USA, November 2006
ISBN-13: 9781596911239
dystopian science fiction

When East End cabdriver Dave Rudman’s wife takes from him his only son, Dave pens a gripping text—a compilation about everything from the environment, Arabs, and American tourists to sex, Prozac, and cabby lore—that captures all of his frustrations and anxieties about his contemporary world. Dave buries the book in his ex-wife’s Hampstead backyard, intending it for his son, Carl, when he comes of age.

Five hundred years later, Dave’s book is found by the inhabitants of Ham, a primitive archipelago in post-apocalyptic London, where it becomes a sacred text of biblical proportions and the template for a new civilization. Only one islander, Symum, remains incredulous. But, after he is imprisoned for heresy, his son Carl must journey through the Forbidden Zone and into the terrifying heart of New London to find the only thing that will reveal the truth once and for all: a second Book of Dave that repudiates the first.

The Book of Dave is a profound meditation upon the nature of religion and a caustic satire of contemporary life.
My thoughts:

Whew! Reading The Book of Dave was exhausting work.
It might seem that there are spoilers in this review, but, trust me, not really...
The Book of Dave is about a present day London taxi-driver who, after his divorce, becomes increasingly bitter - and psychotic. He eventually becomes convinced he is god and has his writings printed on metal plates, which he then buries in his ex-wife's backyard. Hundreds of years later his rantings are found and become the religious creed of a future people populating London. There are sixteen chapters that alternate between the dystopian future and the present. In turn, these chapters also jump around in time in their own era. This alone is enough to keep track of, but then you have to add the dialect used in the future. That is really what makes The Book of Dave so challenging, and I would imagine this will hold true for most American readers. The dialect in the future is a phonetically-spelled cockney, mixed in with text-message shorthand, and unique slang words. This vocabulary was extremely challenging for me to read and almost incomprehensible at times. Thank goodness there was a glossary in the back which help a little bit. Now, the dialect does start to make more sense after awhile, but it still remained extremely challenging for me to read. In fact, since the first chapter starts in the future, I almost gave up on the book.

The Book Of Dave is a dark narrative involving domestic violence, misogyny, religious zealots, psychosis, superstition, and, occasionally, brilliant insight. It's hard to read - very hard. The amount of dialect is off-putting, especially in a book of this size. The future is as hopeless as the present. You really don't have even a clue as to what is going on until later in the book. There are weird domesticated creatures called motos which are seemingly a genetically engineered human/swine/bovine hybrid. It is a long, complicated, and sometimes disgusting novel. I'm not sure if I'd actually recommend The Book of Dave simply because it is such a struggle to read. The actual concept is great (found tablets of a raving psychotic become the basis for a religion and a society), but the execution, especially with dialect was at times almost too demanding for me.
So-so, but recommended


Chapter One
The Hack's Party
JUN 523 AD
Carl Dévúsh, spindle-shanked, bleach-blond, lampburnt, twelve years old, kicked up buff puffs of sand with his bare feet as he scampered along the path from the manor. Although it was still early in the first tariff, the foglamp had already bored through the cloud and boiled the dew off the island. As he gained height and looked back over his shoulder, Carl saw first the homely notch of Manna Bä, then the shrub-choked slopes of the Gayt rising up beyond it. The sea mist had retreated offshore, where it hovered, a white-grey bank merging with the blue screen above. Wot if Eye woz up vair, Carl thought, up vair lyke ve Flyin I? opening

Carl stood watching as first one moto, then the next, was coaxed up and eased over into a wallow, until all seven were occupied. The other motos waited their turn, snuffling and licking each other's buttocks and flanks. Each elevated pool of muddy water was just broad enough to hold one of the creatures. Once in, they used their webbed feet and hands to turn in a tight circle, ducking their little mushers. pg. 6

His half-brother Bert broke in on Carl's reverie, asking:
- Djoo wan me 2 cumman gé Runti wiv U?
- Nah, nah, he stuttered, vis iss tween me an ím an Dave. U an ve lads betta gé ve wallowin dun an pack ve uvvers orf. Runti - eez mì mayt. Av U ló sed yer tartars 2 Runti? he called to the wallowing motos.
- Goo-bì, Wunti, goo-bì! they lisped in response.
- Catch U lò bakkat ve manna, Carl called to the other lads, then he started down off the crest of the hill and into the woodland. pg. 7-8

- I care not one whit, he said, the lad's crime is the same as yours, flying, and I am not fit to sit in judgement on either of you. You will have to go to London, to the PCO. The Examiners have taken it upon themselves to try all flyers, and I cannot stand in their way. Dave have mercy on your fares!
- Dave av mursee, the dads echoed. pg. 25

December 2001
Hunched low over the wheel, foglamps piercing the miasma, Dave Rudman powered his cab through the chicane at the bottom of Park Lane. pg. 27

Toyist. Dave had taken the child's coinage for his own. On good days only the obvious fake things were toyist, like the giant spine stuck on a chiropractor's in Old Street, or the big plug sunk into the wall of a block on Foubert's Place. But on bad days almost everything could be toyist: the Bloomberg VDU on the corner of North End Road was an outsized Game Boy, the flaring torch outside the new Marriott Hotel at Gloucester Road is a lit match. pg. 47

SEP 509 - 10 AD
Effi told little Symun the old legends of Ham, from before the Breakup and the Book that ordained it, legends that, she maintained, went back to the MadeinChina, when the world had been created out of the maelstrom. pg. 58


Jane said...

Wow. That does sound like a hard read.
I saw something in this though, that has remiminded me to ask you something! LOL I saw New London & that sparked my memory. Do I show up on here as being from New London Minnesota? That's what it says on my own counter over on my page. LOL I don't know why. I usually have to re-set mine so that it won't count my own visits, but every time it does it says that I'm from New London
Minnesota. LOL....

Corey said...

I've been wanting to read this one for some time. I'm a big admirer of Will Self's novel Great Apes.

Corey said...

If you want to read other novels on the same theme, I recommend Walter Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz and Nick DiChario's Valley of Day-Glo.

Lori L said...

Jane - I would NOT recommend The Book of Dave to you, LOL! You have to enjoy dystopian sci fi to even want to keep at it.
I don't know if you come up as New London, LOL! I haven't been keep track of where my readers come from as closely any more. I do know that it must have been paper time on Grenville's The Secret River because I had lots of searches for quotes from it several weeks ago. (I do encourage all students reading me in order to find quotes to actually read the books. My quotes are generally from the first 50 pages and are meant to only give a taste of the novel - not any great insights.)

Lori L said...

Corey - I read Self's How the Dead Live and didn't think I'd ever read anything by him again, but after reading the description of The Book of Dave, I just couldn't pass it up.
I'll consider reading Self's Great Apes after I let some time pass.

I'm a long time dystopian sci fi fan. I've actually read Canticle for Leibowitz and reviewed it:

I'll be looking for The Valley of Day-Glo! Thanks for the recommendation!