Tuesday, January 2, 2018


Phone by Will Self
Grove Atlantic: 1/9/18
eBook review copy: 624 pages
ISBN-13: 9780802125378

Phone by Will Self is a stream-of-conscious tome about two men, Alzheimer's, technology, disassociation, war, and affairs.

Zack Busner "is a psychiatrist who has made his name through his unorthodox treatment of psychological damage, such as giving the controversial drug L-DOPA to patients ravaged by encephalitis, or administering LSD to World War II PTSD-sufferers. But now Busner’s own mind is fraying: Alzheimer’s is shredding his memory and his newest possession is a shiny smartphone given to him by his introverted grandson Ben."

Jonathan De’Ath "aka 'the Butcher,' is an MI6 man who remains a mystery even to those closest to him, be it his washed-up old university lecturer father, his jumbling-bumbling mother, his hippy-dippy brothers, his spooky colleagues or multitudinous lovers. All of De’Ath’s acquaintances apply the “Butcher” epithet to him, and perhaps there is only one person who thinks of him with tenderness, a man he keeps top secret, encrypted in the databanks of his steely mind: Colonel Gawain Thomas, husband, father, highly-trained tank commander, and Jonathan De’Ath’s long-time lover."

Written in a stream-of-consciousness style with no paragraph breaks or chapter breaks, Self is requiring a whole lot of concentration from his readers. In some ways he seems to be egging the reader on, deliberately trying to exasperate us and daring us to lose focus and interest. It is over 600 pages and includes an overabundance of ellipsis that can begin to annoy and distract even the most careful reader. Add to this the words and acronyms spelled phonetically (and thus must be sounded out) which, yeah, slows the reading down and began to grate on my nerves. The narration jumps from one character to the other with no break, no transition and mid-sentence. There is also a constantly ringing smart phone.

This is a love it/hate it book. Even with some rather brilliant and insightful passages (to which 2 stars gives a nod), Phone was overwhelming to read and not necessarily in a good way for me. Die-hard fans of Self's modernist trilogy that began with Umbrella and Shark will want to tackle Phone. If you aren't a loyal reader of Self, you may want to consider skipping this one. Finally, quit frankly, this novel is dominated by men and phallic discussions so I was never the target audience for it and in some ways resent the time I spent carefully reading it.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Grove Atlantic.

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