the book of dave


Like the protagonist of his latest novel, The Book of Dave, Will Self gets the party started by digging himself a hole. In cabbie Dave Rudman’s case, the hole is the pit in his ex-wife’s backyard where he buries a nasty screed that he hopes one day will explain his rage and heartbreak to his estranged son. Dave’s cri de coeur—part misanthropic memoir, part religious manifesto—is written in a haze of antidepressants and printed in a manner to survive watery apocalypse, but it becomes the bible for a medievalish society five hundred years later, one based entirely on the demons, real and imagined, that plague a white, bitter, depressed, middle-aged Londoner. Self’s hole, by contrast, is the one he digs for his project by borrowing a shopworn premise that has launched a thousand sci-fi novels, most famously Walter M. Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz, as well as at least one memorable Star Trek episode. Let’s not even mention the closing shot of Planet of the Apes.

Given this array of antecedents, then, one of the most astonishing aspects of this astonishing novel is how gracefully Self leaps out of said trough. It’s almost arrogant, really, the way he filches a hokey gimmick and mines its possibilities with genuine profundity and brio. Anybody who has read him over the years won’t be too surprised, but in The Book of Dave, his satiric masterpiece thus far, Self proves again that with talent like his, it’s never the what, but the how.

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