Sunday, 5 May 2019


A brother is as easily forgotten as an umbrella - James Joyce

UmbrellaUmbrella by Will Self
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm not sure what to say about this. It takes your breath away and twists your brain, delights, frustrates, amazes and baffles in pretty equal measure. But you soon get into an easy rhythm of not letting anything, any of the abundant details, get too distracting, of simply absorbing the text, absorbing the tale, soaking up the story until you realise you're in another world and the world is very much like your own but at the same time, totally different. Reading this book is a bit like having a dream: you know it's not real but it still feels real and you react as if everything was real. Writing my own book about the Great War I was so immersed in some of the research I did that it sometimes leeched into my dreams, with facts and images reflected in the sort of distorting mirrors you used to get at fairs. Umbrella is in some ways like one of those dreams, the machine-gun Stanley Death operates is "their new love – Vicky. Death and his section were taught to dash forward when the whistle blew, release the ratchet that secured her front legs so they could be swung open and then fixed by tightening it again. Sitting there, as Death, Stanley removed the pins from her raven hair, and the Number Two ran up and placed her body on top of her legs, her body – her death-dealing body, her 28-pound body"; with Vicky Stanley Death is "raining down death on a Daimler he cannot see but which he is busily disassembling, his bullets methodically shearing off one mudguard, then the next, drilling out the spokes from the wheels, unbolting those wheels from their axles, hammering the chassis into scrap, and finally pulverising its engine into all its component parts". In a way it's all Craig Raine's Martian and his postcards home, but what a Martian. What a series of successive observations of war, time, memory, family, mental illness, society. Umbrella isn't billed as a war book because it's so much more than that. But it is a war book and as good a book about the Great War as has probably been written.

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