Last night he was in Paris to launch his recent novel Umbrella, Parapluie to you, which was published this week in French. He gave a brilliant reading along with the French translation that was suitably animated. It was interesting to note the translation now that my French is so much better. I noticed a few words that I would have put quite differently for the colour and vivacity of Will's English to shine, but that it to pick nits.
The novel, in which he nods to weighty Modernist predecessors (Joyce, Woolf et al), is concerned with disease (a real pathology - remember Oliver Sacks and the film Awakening), technology innovated by war and the individual. Its cover quote from Joyce that 'a brother is as easily forgotten as an umbrella' is for Self the summation of the theme. On the style, which has been criticised as hard, Will explained the use of the continuous present, the lack of breaks between the consciousness of one character and another and how he was pleased to have finally killed god, in the form the omniscient narrator.
Questions I would have asked if I hadn't been so tired at the end of the week: Just how pissed off were you not to win the Booker Prize, and If narrative is no longer in the novel and has moved elsewhere, where is it in text art?
I'd like to suggest that narrative exists in poetry (I like to think I can write a whole novel in a narrative sense in one poem) and that we might see a resurgence of poetry in our sound bite age where text is reduced to tweets and flashes and our attention span is ever shorter for reading, especially novels.
Will characterised this situation by berating well educated people who can no longer be arsed (my word) to read or interact with high culture because a novel can't be clicked on to explain it meaning and who think this is an acceptable position. He was scathing about those who'd rather read children's books.
Sound bites to chew over:
Progress is the upgrading of the world every five years.
All is steampunk - obsolete technology is all around us such as an umbrella.
The serious novel is a philosophical form. It has to say something about existence.