"A brother is as easily forgotten as an umbrella."
James Joyce, Ulysses
Radical and uncompromising, Umbrella is a tour de force from one of England's most acclaimed contemporary writers, and Self's most ambitious novel to date. Moving between Edwardian London and a suburban mental hospital in 1971, Umbrella exposes the twentieth century's technological searchlight as refracted through the dark glass of a long term mental institution. While making his first tours of the hospital at which he has just begun working, maverick psychiatrist Zachary Busner notices that many of the patients exhibit a strange physical tic: rapid, precise movements that they repeat over and over. One of these patients is Audrey Dearth, an elderly woman born in the slums of West London in 1890. Audrey's memories of a bygone Edwardian London, her lovers, involvement with early feminist and socialist movements, and, in particular, her time working in an umbrella shop, alternate with Busner's attempts to treat her condition and bring light to her clouded world. Busner's investigations into Audrey's illness lead to discoveries about her family that are shocking and tragic.
"This novel is uncompromising and relentless in the demands it makes upon the reader, yet there's a lyrical, rhapsodic element that continually pulls one into and through the narrative." - Kirkus Reviews
"An ambitiously conceived and brilliantly executed novel in the high modernist tradition of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf...Umbrella is an immense achievement." - Financial Times (UK)
"If the realist novel welcomes you in, takes your coat, hat (and umbrella), shows you to a comfortable seat and gets you a gin and tonic, this book leaves you to let yourself in, sit yourself down (if you can find room) and get your own bloody drink if you insist on having one." - The Sunday Times
"A hot tip for the Booker prize, Will Self's Joycean tribute is a stream of consciousness tour de force.... [It] builds into a heartbreaking mosaic, a sardonic critique of the woefully misdirected treatment of the mentally ill and the futility of war and, above all, a summation of the human condition." Daily Mail (UK)
"Umbrella is old-school modernism. It isn't supposed to be a breeze. But it is, to use the literary critical term of art, kind of amazing It may not be his easiest, but I think this may be Will Self's best book." - The Observer (UK)
"Umbrella is a magnificent celebration of modernist prose, an epic account of the first world war, a frightening investigation into the pathology of mental illness, and the first true occasion when Self's ambition and talent have produced something of real cultural significance" - The Spectator (UK)
"There is a contemplative quality to the prose that feels new ... but the content remains familiar: a Swiftian disgust with the body; a fastidious querulousness about human sexuality; a forcing of attention on human frailty." - The Independent (UK)
"The Edwardian sections are the most lavishly engaging, with Self doing different voices like a schizophrenic music hall act." - Daily Telegraph (UK)
"Self saw a metaphor for his own attempts to resurrect the past, to give history a distinctive, earthy voice. In this he succeeds beautifully, writing with a new sophistication. The result is a stunning novel, and a compelling Self-reinvention." - The Independent on Sunday (UK)
"There are echoes of Joyce and Eliot, but also of Flaubert. ... Umbrella is a complexly textured, conceptually forbidding thesis about the modern, its art and their discontents." - New Statesman (UK)
"This is by far Will Self's best novel; clever, intense, ambitious and risky." - The Scotsman (UK)
"Umbrella is an astonishing achievement, a novel of exhilarating linguistic invention and high moral seriousness. . . . This is a novel which will be read and re-read, as much for its emotional weight as its technical virtuosity. ... With this book he reveals himself as the most determinedly and delightfully literary novelist of his generation." - Scotland on Sunday (UK)
"A surprisingly moving story of common people crushed by the state." - Metro
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Will Self is the author of three short-story collections, The Quantity Theory of Insanity (winner of the 1992 Geoffrey Faber award), Grey Area and Tough Tough Toys for Tough Tough Boys; a pair of novellas, Cock and Bull, and a third novella, The Sweet Smell of Psychosis; and several novels, including My Idea of Fun, Great Apes, How the Dead Live (shortlisted for the Whitbread Novel of the Year 2000) and The Book of Dave.
Together with the photographer David Gamble, he produced Perfidious Man, a sideways look at contemporary masculinity. He has also published three collections of journalism, Junk Mail Sore Sites and Feeding Frenzy. He is a regular broadcaster on UK television and radio and as a journalist a contributor to a plethora of publications. He lives in London with his wife, ...
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