three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
27-Mar-Apr-2007
By: 
Will Self
user_rating: 
0

A-The Book of DaveWhen London cabbie Dave Rudman’s beautiful wife leaves him and takes their only child, Dave falls into an abyss of alcohol, bitterness, and self-pity. Inspired by his plight, he pens an angry, misogynist, and philosophical treatise that describes his trade’s knowledge of London and captures his own moral anxieties. Hoping that his son will one day discover the text, he buries The Book of Dave in his ex-wife’s garden. Five hundred years later on the island of Ham (Hampshire), dystopian survivors of an apocalyptic flood uncover the text. They then create a deity of Dave and follow his bitter advice—including the separation of the sexes—word for word.
Bloomsbury. 496 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 1596911239

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"The Book of Dave is his most bodacious, coruscating and savage attack yet on a consumption-addled society whose soul is made of breakable plastic. … [I]t is a perversely exhilarating read." Brigitte Frase

Seattle Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The evolution of the Book of Dave is intercut with its application in the future, and the result is occasionally hilarious and always smart and imaginative. Though his prose can be undisciplined, Self’s energy and ideas pick up the slack and make this a remarkably sharp book about the many ways people can go terribly wrong." Mark Lindquist

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The good news is that, while The Book of Dave is sometimes as aggressively off-putting as Self’s five previous novels, it’s also a richer, more engaging enterprise. … With ingenious symmetry, Self’s alternating chapters show how shakily new civilizations are built atop the bones and ghosts of the past, never really progressing, each caught up in its own ‘centrifugal strivings.’" Donna Rifkind

Los Angeles Times 3 of 5 Stars
"[S]omething odd happens about halfway through Dave’s story line. We begin to empathize with him. … Any reader who has gaily gone along with the redemptive undercurrent of Dave’s story will want to jab the author in the eye by the end of the novel." Regina Marler

NY Times Book Review 1.5 of 5 Stars
"In a short what-if story, a powerful or hilarious premise can often suffice; but in a novel, especially one nearly 500 pages long, these deficiencies are laid bare once the novelty of the original premise fades. … [W]e’re ultimately left with a pair of grotesque worlds, facing each other like two mirrors, but reflecting nothing." Nathaniel Rich

Critical Summary

Will Self’s previous fiction, including The Quantity Theory of Insanity, captured modern English society’s ills. The Book of Dave, a best seller in the UK, is a similarly imaginative, vitriolic, and what-if criticism of modern culture. Despite its compelling themes, reviewers differed in opinion about the novel’s success. While the Minneapolis Star Tribune called it an "utterly enthralling and laser-sharp nightmare of our present and future," others criticized the caricatured males and difficult dialogue in the alternating chapters on Ham. ("Arpee-English," a phonetic cockney, goes something like this: "Iss tyme, Runti, Carl cooed, tym fer yer slorta, yeah?") If the novel is sometimes rough going and a not-too-pretty picture of society, the parallels between Dave’s modern London and the cruder Ham culture could not be scarier.