These Modern Times…

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Umbrella
By Will Self
397 pages
Bloomsbury

Not for the faint of heart. Umbrella is challenging reading, sometimes bewildering, but frequently beautiful. And that’s why a determined reader keeps on going. A Modernist throwback, Umbrella makes it new. It’s like Will Self has pulled his old James Joyce jersey out of the closet, tried it on and it still fits. Time and POV shift all the time (sometimes in the same sentence) amid paragraphs that go on and on with little white space, and no chapter breaks. So you’re thinking to yourself–is Mr. Self just jazzing around, proving some postmodern point? He is…but it’s still a lovely story with rewards for the diligent.

Like John Coltrane’s most astral work or that obscure record from 1974 that on first listen was tough going but you just knew there was gold deep in the grooves, you keep going back to it because something ineffable draws you back. You’re seeking those pleasure bursts of words that explode on the page, rare and valuable in these Modern times.

And besides, any novel that opens with a few lines from the Kinks’ 1970 hit, Ape Man, is okay in my book.

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