My Idea of Fun: A Cautionary Tale

by Will Self

Hardcover, 1994





New York : Atlantic Monthly Press, 1994.


A novel of the grotesque. It features a protagonist whose idea of fun is pleasure killing and sadistic mutilation. By a writer who is one of Britain's rising stars.

User reviews

LibraryThing member fuzzydeadthing
Not for the faint of heart. A convoluted story whose merit lies in the skill of the author's ability to style memorable bits of prose. I read the whole thing from front cover to back, and still am not sure what was really going on. And there are some extremely disgusting elements. But some of the paragraphs are truly priceless.

Here is one such tidbit, which is located towards the beginning of the book:

“Coffee succeeded crème brulée. We moved from the dinner table to the sitting room. The talk was of people, mutual friends who were conveniently not present. Their stock rose and fell on the conversational Nikkei with incredible speed. Someone would say of X, ‘Oh I think he’s idiotic, there’s no point to him at all-’ and then someone else would chime in with an anecdote confirming this. Before long almost everyone present would be vying with one another to come up with examples of X’s awfulness. Within five minutes it became clear that absolutely nothing could redeem X short of the second coming. He was venal, he was dishonest, he was gauche, he was pretentious, he was snobbish and yet . . . and yet . . . Just when X was hammered flat and ready for disposal, the tide turned. Someone said, ‘The thing about X is that he’ll always help you out if you’re in a real jam, he’s loyal in that way.’ The emotional traders swung around to face their dealing screens once more. With X so low he was worth investing in again. Before long his stock was being snapped up by all and sundry. X was now witty, unassuming, possessed of a transcendent sensibility…”
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LibraryThing member stillatim
What does it say about me that I didn't find this book very shocking? For all but twenty pages, it's a satire on metaphysical bildungsromans (romanen?) and a pretty withering criticism of contemporary society. Okay, so far so good. Plenty of people got there first, it's true: revoltingly fat man as a figure of Satan? McCarthy in Blood Meridian beat him by 5 years. Links between repulsive violence and the less productive aspects of capitalist society? Ever heard of American Psycho, Will? Even the supposedly shocking bits are a bit rehashed- getting it off inside gory wounds? Ballard, Crash.
So the 'shock' isn't very shocking, unless you've only been reading novels by Martin Amis and A. S. Byatt for the last 40 years, which is apparently true of the British cognoscenti.
Otherwise? Well, the problem is that Self is very good at the shocking gore stuff, but there isn't much of it and what there is has been, as I said, rehashed.* He's not so good at making his own criticisms of society coherent. Obviously he thinks shit is fucked up and shit, but that's about as much depth as I can find. He hints at the problems of reification and alienation (actual alienation, not teenager-wearing-black-sitting-in-his-room-can't-connect-to-society alienation), but maybe I'm just reading that into it?
Otherwise, the plot twist is a little tiresome (although this time he got in *before* Palahniuk, so that's one for the Brits) and kind of obvious, and there's so much pointless sub-surrealist garbage in the second half that I really started to question if he had any idea what he was doing at all.

On the upside, splendidly written and mean enough that I'd be willing to try his other books. But don't go looking for shock, plot or character here.

* Spoiler alert: I confess the whole 'sucking the severed penis of a tortured, dead dog' thing was unexpected. But imagine how much more 'shocking' it would have been if the dog had been alive.
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