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The Book of Dave: A Novelby Will Self
Synopses & Reviews
When East End cabdriver Dave Rudman’s wife takes from him his only son, Dave pens a gripping text—a compilation about everything from the environment, Arabs, and American tourists to sex, Prozac, and cabby lore—that captures all of his frustrations and anxieties about his contemporary world. Dave buries the book in his ex-wife’s Hampstead backyard, intending it for his son, Carl, when he comes of age.
Five hundred years later, Dave’s book is found by the inhabitants of Ham, a primitive archipelago in post-apocalyptic London, where it becomes a sacred text of biblical proportions and the template for a new civilization. Only one islander, Symum, remains incredulous. But, after he is imprisoned for heresy, his son Carl must journey through the Forbidden Zone and into the terrifying heart of New London to find the only thing that will reveal the truth once and for all: a second Book of Dave that repudiates the first.
The Book of Dave is a profound meditation upon the nature of religion and a caustic satire of contemporary life. Will Self is the acclaimed author of such books as The Quantity Theory of Insanity, Great Apes, and How the Dead Live. He won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize and was shortlisted for the Whitbread Book of the Year. Will Self lives in London. When cabdriver Dave Rudman’s wife of five years deserts him for another man, taking their only child with her, he is thrown into a tailspin of doubt and discontent. Fearing his son will never know his father, Dave pens a gripping text—part memoir, part deranged philosophical treatise, and part handbook of “the Knowledge” learned by all London cab drivers. Meant for the boy when he comes of age, the book captures the frustration and anxiety of modern life. Five hundred years later, the Book of Dave is discovered by the inhabitants on the island of Ham, where it becomes a sacred text of biblical proportion, and its author is revered as a mighty prophet. "The first 90 pages of this book read like a cross between 'Jabberwocky' and A Clockwork Orange. It's a devilishly catchy argot and once readers sink into it, they will find themselves wondering if the characters are traveling norf or souf . . . Like Martin Amis, with whom he's often compared, Self marries his verbal acrobatics to social critique, gamely taking on corporate culture, family law, London urban sprawl, religion, racial division and the received wisdom of women's magazines and the pub . . . You're left with the intoxication of Self's wordplay and the clarity of his visions."—Regina Marler, Los Angeles Times"Fans of Self's previous edgy satires won't be disappointed with The Book of Dave, his latest riff on the strange complexities of the modern world. Balancing stories of pained intimacies between fathers and sons, it also brilliantly caricatures the fervor of literal-minded religious fundamentalism . . . Blisteringly astute."—Geoffrey Bateman, Rocky Mountain News
"In this tale of an embittered taxi-driver whose psychotic rantings become the creed of a blighted people hundreds of years after his death, Self unleashes his apparently boundless misanthropy on modern London, the origins of religion, and the postapocalyptic future. Dave Rudman, driven mad by divorce and ill-prescribed antidepressants, thinks he is God and writes a vitriolic screed, which he has printed on metal plates and buries in a garden. Discovered by the survivors of a catastrophic flood and adopted as a gospel, it demands the complete separation of mothers and fathers (children to spend exactly half the week with each). Switching between a narrative of Dave’s unlucky life and the phonetically rendered 'Mokni' speech of his wretched followers, Self achieves an elaborate vision of vicious superstition and hopeless struggle, but his insights never quite repay the effort of engaging with his stylistic pyrotechnics."—The New Yorker
"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 . . . Though his invention (often via inversion) of a future language owes an obvious debt to Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker, Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange, and Orwell, Self spins his own brilliantly macaronic web between Now and Later . . . Self's inventiveness and control are dazzling . . . Self's novel achieves depth not by skewering organized religion, though it does so quite adroitly, but by exploring the many grids of modern despair, how we find ourselves cast adrift, and how, much like Dave, whose loneliness is unabated by the 'hateful company of his own kind,' we fester unseen . . . A gripping, funny, and pleasurably intricate novel."—Sam Lipsyte, Bookforum
“This searing satire maps the unraveling of London cabbie Dave Rudman's life—and the resulting Book of Dave he prints on metal pages and buries in his former backyard after his ex-wife cuts off visitations with his son. Meanwhile, sometime in the twenty-sixth century or beyond (dating of the period is pegged to ‘the purported discovery of The Book of Dave’), England has entered a second Dark Age; the country, now called Ing, is broken apart by rising seas and spiritually bankrupted by the twisted teachings of Dave, which mix mad misogynistic dictates with the legendary knowledge of London streets (‘the runs and the points’) that the city's cabdrivers must internalize. On the former heights of Hampstead, now known as the isle of Ham, villagers live side by side with the gentle motos—walruslike creatures who talk like lisping human children, products of twenty-first-century genetic engineering. As present-day Rudman slowly reclaims his life, the future sons of Ham seek out Dave's rumored second book—the one recanting his earlier ravings and giving mummies and daddies permission to love each other again. But as Dave's ex prophetically muses, ‘everyday life was made up of a series of small botched actions, which, although instantly forgotten, nonetheless ruined everything.’ This is as rousing an indictment of organized religion—and especially fundamentalism—as readers are likely to encounter in the post-9/11 canon.”—Frank Sennett, Booklist (starred review)“Self, the provocative British raconteur who used the Tibetan Book of the Dead to map London is taking another literary shot across his home city's bow. In his gleaming new puzzlebook, Self creates a dystopian future London, ruled by a cynosure of priests, lawyers and the monarchy. He invents Arpee, the musical language they speak that is based on a sacred text—The Book of Dave—which also serves, satirically, as the society's moral and legal foundation. And who is this deity named Dave? An embittered London cabbie from the distant past—the year 2000. As the book opens, the kingdom of Ingerland is ruled by the elite and ruthless PCO. (Self is riffing on the Public Carriage Office, London's transit authority.) People live according to The Book of Dave, which was recovered after a great flood wiped out London in the MadeinChina era. Flashing back more than 500 years, cabbie Dave Rudman types out his idiosyncratic, misogynist, bile-tinged fantasies while in a fit of antidepressant-induced psychosis and battling over the custody of his child, Carl. His screed becomes both a blueprint for a harsh childrearing climate (mummies and daddies living apart, with the kids splitting time between them) and a full-blown cosmology. As Self moves between eras, he divides the book between Dave's story and the story of the great Flying (slang in the future for ‘heresy’). The latter involves the appearance of the Geezer (prophet) on the island of Ham (Hampshire) in 508 A.D. (after the ‘purported discovery of the Book of Dave’), who claims to have found a second Book of Dave annulling the ‘tiresome strictures’ of the first. He is imprisoned by the PCO and mangled beyond recognition, but, 14 years later, his son, Carl Dévúsh, travels from Ham to New London, determined to create a less cruel world that responds to the ‘mummyself’ within. Self's invention of a future language (including dialect Mokni, which combines cabby slang, cockney and the Esperanto of graffiti—and, yes, a dictionary is provided) is wickedly brilliant, with surprising moments of childlike purity punctuating the lexicon's crude surface (a ‘fuckoffgaff’ is a ‘lawyerly place,’ while ‘wooly’ means sheep). Self is endlessly talented, and in crossbreeding a fantasy novel with a scorching satire of contemporary mores, he's created a beautiful monster of the future that feeds on the neurotic present—and its parents.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Will Self is the critically acclaimed
Will Self is the critically acclaimed author of Cock and Bull, The Quantity Theory of Insanity, Great Apes, Sweet Smell of Psychosis, Tough, Tough Toys for Tough, Tough Boys, My Idea of Fun,and the forthcoming The Undivided Self, among others. He lives in London.
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