So you think you know everything there is to know about Will Self’s Booker nominated novel Umbrella? Test your knowledge against our GoodReads quiz here!
What’s it about?
Umbrella is described by the book’s publisher Bloomsbury as follows:
LONGLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2012
A brother is as easily forgotten as an umbrella. James Joyce, Ulysses
Recently having abandoned his RD Laing-influenced experiment in running a therapeutic community – the so-called Concept House in Willesden – maverick psychiatrist Zack Busner arrives at Friern Hospital, a vast Victorian mental asylum in North London, under a professional and a marital cloud. He has every intention of avoiding controversy, but then he encounters Audrey Dearth, a working-class girl from Fulham born in 1890 who has been immured in Friern for decades.
A socialist, a feminist and a munitions worker at the Woolwich Arsenal, Audrey fell victim to the encephalitis lethargica sleeping sickness epidemic at the end of the First World War and, like one of the subjects in Oliver Sacks’ Awakenings, has been in a coma ever since. Realising that Audrey is just one of a number of post-encephalitics scattered throughout the asylum, Busner becomes involved in an attempt to bring them back to life – with wholly unforeseen consequences.
Is Audrey’s diseased brain in its nightmarish compulsion a microcosm of the technological revolutions of the twentieth century? And if Audrey is ill at all – perhaps her illness is only modernity itself? And what of Audrey’s two brothers, Stanley and Albert: at the time she fell ill, Stanley was missing presumed dead on the Western Front, while Albert was in charge of the Arsenal itself, a coming man in the Imperial Civil Service. Now, fifty years later, when Audrey awakes from her pathological swoon, which of the two is it who remains alive?
Radical in its conception, uncompromising in its style, Umbrella is Will Self’s most extravagant and imaginative exercise in speculative fiction to date.
Who is Will Self?
According to his official bio on the Bloomsbury website:
Will Self is the author of The Quantity Theory of Insanity, winner of the 1993 Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, Grey Area, Cock & Bull, My Idea of Fun, The Sweet Smell of Psychosis, Great Apes, Tough, Tough Toys for Tough, Tough Boys, Dorian, How the Dead Live, which was shortlisted for the Whitbread Novel of the Year 2002, and The Book of Dave. He lives in London. Ralph Steadman is the author of Sigmund Freud, I Leonardo, The Big I Am, The Scar-Strangled Banner, the novel Doodaaa and the memoir The Joke’s Over: Memories of Hunter S. Thompson. He is also the illustrator of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Alice, Animal Farm and The Devil’s Dictionary. He lives in Kent.
What does BookerMarks think of Umbrella?
Michelle (Review): “Will Self has written a very difficult book for the reader. In fact he states that he does not write for the reader and he does not care if he wins the Man Booker prize for his book Umbrella.”
Mike (Review): “…Yes I quite agree I mean what’s the point of being treated like sheep. What’s the point of going abroad if you’re just another tourist carted around in buses surrounded by sweaty mindless oafs from Kettering and Coventry in their cloth caps and their cardigans and their transistor radios and their Sunday Mirrors, complaining about the tea…”
Karli (Review):“Umbrella should be a compelling read about war, modernity, sex, gender, experimental medicine, and the lack of accountability in the mental health system – but it’s not.”
Jackie (Review): “I really want to STOP READING THIS HORRIBLE BOOK but for the sake of the project I will finish! This is like a homework assignment from your worse teacher EVER!”
Penny (Review): “If this should make the short-list, then I can only think I will have to chew on a piece of tripe, for this is what I feel this title to consist of (and I cannot bear the thought of eating tripe).”
Aaron (Review): “There’s nothing wrong with a novel being challenging, in fact I welcome that. In the case of Umbrella though, the question is one of where to draw the line. At what point does an author realize that they’re writing a challenging novel solely for the sake of it being difficult for readers to easily digest and not because it’s the best way with which to get their points across?”