This book has all kinds of metafictional fun and games in store for you, if you choose to step into author Sam Mills’s Alice in Ayahuasca Land surrealist paean to the almighty Will Self. Self’s spirit and style, cleverly parodied in the opening section as the increasingly deranged Richard Smith becomes obsessed with Self and the apparently sinister Will Self Club and merges his fractured identity with that of the famous writer; and many of Self’s concerns – the nature of language and its limits, the problem of creating narrative fiction commensurate with the complexities of contemporary life, the magical spaces opened up in the imagination by psychogeography, psychiatry’s will-to-power and the meaning of mental illness, and, of course, drugs – inform this twistedly funny and touchingly poignant story of confused identities, of mercurial spirits who reflect and refract each others’ personalities.
The basics of the story are this. Richard Smith is a struggling would-be writer dealing with mental illness who falls down the rabbit-hole into the world of The Will Self Club, a group of young decadent writers, a literary equivalent of the YBAs, who create a religion based on the worship of Will Self. There is a murder plot, an achingly sad ghost story in which the murder victim, Sylvie, also obsessed with Self, flies in through his window and enters his manuscript as he writes The Book of Dave. A love story with a sad ending, set some forty years after the murder of Sylvie and the breakdown of Richard Smith, is also a teasing mystery plot, a near-future dystopia and a dark psychedelic thriller. The most comic postmodernist swerve, in the spirit of Joyce, Vonnegut and Amis jr, is the final section, in which a fictionalised male version of Sam Mills (the real one is female, but she explores all kinds of genderbending and polymorphously perverse possibilities in comedically trippy fantasy mode) meets a sexy succubus at a book reading and finds his essence, his quiddity, is gradually sapped as she exchanges cosmically stupendous blow jobs for critical appraisal of her novel-in-progess.
So this is a unique novel in that it takes the idea of creating a fictional version of a real-life individual but goes even farther than say JG Ballard did with Elizabeth Taylor in Crash or Self himself did with various literary figures in Walking to Hollywood, to produce something outrageously funny and kinkily otherworldly, much in the style of the book’s inspiration Himself. (There is even a series of emails to Self sent by Mills to ask his blessing for the project. Apparently the real Sam Mills did this and Mr Self generously gave his non-litigious approval. So he appears as a shamanistic spirit-god, his ‘real’ self and as an electronic communication. Such onotological twists and turns!)
The Quiddity of Will Self made me laugh and think and feel, kept me entertained to the fullest extent, and decided me to look out for more of Sam Mills’s work in the future. Definitely my idea of fun.