Standing on the doorstep of Will Self’s London home ahead of this interview, last August, I was quite terrified. I had spent the previous ten days immersed in his hallucinatory fictional worlds, composed of seven novels, three novellas and countless short stories.
Through these parallel and often overlapping fictions, Self has constructed a relentless critique of our institutional failings, hypocritical cultural mores and political inadequacies. My fears, notwithstanding being intellectually dwarfed, were largely to do with the bridled madness of many of his writings. Here was the writer who, over the years, had invented:
- a man who wakes up with a vagina behind his left knee and has an affair with his (male) GP (Bull: A Farce);
- a parallel Earth, populated by hypersexual and exhibitionist apes, seen through the eyes of its most prominent experimental psychiatrists (Great Apes);
- the afterlife taking place in the purgatorial London district of ‘Dulston’, a suburb populated uniquely by senseless, chain-smoking dead people, haunted by their aborted foetuses and old neuroses, and living out the rest of infinity in dire office jobs (How the Dead Live);
- a post-apocalyptic London governed by a religion based on a cab driver named Dave’s rage-filled writings to his estranged son in the 2000s (The Book of Dave).
And then there was the public figure – an acerbic satirist of towering intellect, a giant man of letters with famously little tolerance for fools. By the time I rang on the doorbell, Will Self had, to my mind, transmogrified into The Fat Controller – the Mephistophelian anti-hero in My Idea of Fun – ready to tear me limb from limb for my idiotic questions and inadequate readings.
My fears were unwarranted, of course. Upon arrival, he made me a cup of tea and ushered me past Manglorian – a yap-happy Jack Russell – up the stairs into a study filled top to bottom with books, hundreds of post-it notes affixed to the walls in grid formation and a prominently placed photograph of Francis Bacon. Languorously smoking a single roll-up in a cigarette holder, my host answered the questions put to him with wit and eloquence.