Although I’ve reviewed most major British and American literary novelists over the last ten years, until now I’ve always steered clear of writing about Will Self. This is largely because the temptation to trash him stems from an initial admiration: as a teenager I wolfed down The Quantity Theory of Insanity and Cock and Bull, and even went to see him read (when I rarely went to see writers read) from My Idea of Fun. But halfway through reading my inscribed copy back at home, I suddenly realised that, like many others, what I most admired about Self was the pose, not the prose. Self (like William Burroughs, a writer he admires) is perfect for adolescence, but as soon as you pass twenty, it’s impossible to read him.
But, of course, it’s equally impossible to avoid reading Will Self. It’s perhaps easier now, when he mainly confines his journalism to waffling on about nothing in the Evening Standard and Saturday’s Independent, but in the 1990s he was everywhere. He was like a persistent case of athlete’s foot: no