‘Clever, witty, disturbing and opinionated’ – Shark by Will Self

shark will selfThe first thing that struck me about Shark was just how readable it was. There was none of the first-fifty-page-struggle that came with Umbrella. Maybe reading that, the first part of this trilogy, had prepared me. Maybe that was why this story seemed to flow so easily, and I could see why Will Self didn’t bother with chapters or even paragraph breaks; because he didn’t need them. His sentences glide so smoothly from precise description through to inner thoughts and along lines of dialogue that you could even wonder why he bothered with those occasional full stops.

The modernism, therefore, doesn’t feel gimmicky or even experimental, but a necessary way to tell the story. That story is non-linear, often told through flashbacks and flashforwards to make up a sequel that is also part prequel (Self calls it a sprequel).

Dr Zack Busner is back, the experimental psychiatrist who has appeared throughout Self’s fiction and who featured in Umbrella too. But the greater part of the narrative is told through Claude the Creep, an American World War Two veteran, who seems to describe a massive shark attack where hundreds of people were killed. It sounds like the ramblings of a disturbed mind, until Busner takes his son to see (and critique) the movie Jaws, which mentions just such an incident when a US Navy ship was sunk by a Japanese submarine. The ship happened to be the one that had just delivered the nuclear material for the Hiroshima bomb.

Self knows each of his characters intimately. He draws vivid pictures of the minutiae of their lives, filled with so many cultural references of the time that you wonder if Self has a photographic memory of his childhood or has he spent at least as many hours researching this novel as writing it.

‘She places her thru’pence and her sixpence on a pile of the Tring and District News and Missus Pile puts her own copy to one side and, looking up, cries, Oh, my! The state of you, Jeanie, you’ve bled all down your shirt an’ yer face is all swole … You’re one to talk! – Missus Pile’s face is all swole: apple cheeks and a Superball nose chalky with lavender-smelling powder. Quarter of flying saucers, please, Missus Pile, Jeanie says, an’ same again of blackjacks and fruit salads.’

Any Cop?: Shark, like its author, is clever, witty, disturbing and opinionated. I liked it, but not everyone will.

 

Jim Dempsey

 


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