Review: Walking to Hollywood

Pedestrian at the pictures


By Jonathan Beckman, October 26, 2010
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In the shade of a Self-styled narrator: Will Self’s LA perambulations  lead to a ‘remarkable, dextrous’ book

In the shade of a Self-styled narrator: Will Self’s LA perambulations lead to a ‘remarkable, dextrous’ book

By Will Self
Bloomsbury, £17.99

For some, the walking cure is the only option when the talking cure has failed. At the beginning of the titular section of this book, the narrator - who shares many of Will Self's vital statistics - tells his psychiatrist Zack Busner (a regular congregant in Self's fiction) that he is going to walk to Hollywood to investigate "who killed film". Even before he has left the country, Self's rickety mental health becomes apparent when he joins forces with Scooby-Doo to blow up Pinewood Studios.

One persistent indication of Self's psychosis as he shuffles through Los Angeles is his conviction that everyone he meets is being played by someone famous: Will himself is at times incarnated by David Thewlis, at others by Pete Postlethwaite. His psychedelic meanderings take in conspiratorial Scientologists, dinner with Bret Easton Ellis and stoic rappers spreading the message of Marcus Aurelius.

Quite what killed the movies is never entirely clear, though Self identifies popular fervour for steroidal CGI fantasies with the mental turbulence of his fictional avatar. Mike Myers also has something to do with it.

Flanking Walking to Hollywood are two short pieces governed by a form of psychic disorder. Very Little concerns the friendship between Self (or someone very like him), and a dwarf sculptor, Sherman Oaks, who makes Antony Gormley-esque sculptures on a monumental scale. Both the fraying Self, who takes digital photos of himself locking the door, and Oaks, who gruffly if compassionately looks after his friend while Napoleonically barking orders down the phone to lackeys on the five continents, are obsessive compulsives.

In the final, most tender part of the book, Self walks along the East Yorkshire coast from Flamborough Head to Spur Head as his brain fugs up with Alzheimer's and he forgets practically everything apart from his prose style.

In an afterword, Self connects this book to the sense of detachment he felt when a young man was killed outside his house. The walks in this book are those of an anxious writer uncertain of the viability of his vocation: the dérive around Los Angeles takes place during the screenwriters' strike and the down-and-outs he meets are played by Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie and Kazuo Ishiguro among others.

The mental disorders Self endures are all - in restrained form - prerequisites for fiction but, as Walking to Hollywood implies, they can be insidious.

However, with a flick-knife perceptiveness sheathed in his distinctive, stylistic invention, that is both sleek and ornate, Self ought to have nothing to fear. This is a remarkable, dextrous book about professional anomie and identity disorder that, in more ways than one, could only be written by someone called Will Self.

Jonathan Beckman is the assistant editor of the Literary Review

For some, the walking cure is the only option when the talking cure has failed. At the beginning of the titular section of this book, the narrator – who shares many of Will Self's vital statistics – tells his psychiatrist Zack Busner (a regular congregant in Self's fiction) that he is going to walk to Hollywood to investigate "who killed film". Even before he has left the country, Self's rickety mental health becomes apparent when he joins forces with Scooby-Doo to blow up Pinewood Studios.

One persistent indication of Self's psychosis as he shuffles through Los Angeles is his conviction that everyone he meets is being played by someone famous: Will himself is at times incarnated by David Thewlis, at others by Pete Postlethwaite. His psychedelic meanderings take in conspiratorial Scientologists and dinner with Bret Easton Ellis, stoic rappers spreading the message of Marcus Aurelius and a destructive transformation into the incredible hulk that culminates in an abortive attempt at congress with a Hummer.

Quite what killed the movies is never entirely clear, though Self identifies popular fervour for steroidal CGI fantasies with the mental turbulence of his fictional avatar. Mike Myers also has something to do with it.

Flanking Walking to Hollywood are two shorter pieces, each governed by a form of psychic disorder. "Very Little" concerns the friendship between Self (or someone very much like him), and a dwarf sculptor named Sherman Oaks who makes Anthony Gormley-esque sculptures on a monumental scale. Both the fraying Self, who takes digital photos of himself locking the door, and Oaks, who somewhat gruffly if compassionately looks after his friend while Napoleonically barking orders down the phone to lackeys on the five continents, are obsessive compulsives.

In the final, most tender part of the book, Self walks along the East Yorkshire coast from Flamborough Head to Spur Head as his brain fugs up with Alzheimer's and he forgets practically everything apart from his prose style.

In an afterword, Self connects this book to the sense of detachment he felt when a young man was killed outside his house. The walks in this book are those of an anxious writer uncertain of the viability of his vocation: the dérive around Los Angeles takes place during the screenwriters' strike and the down-and-outs he meets are played by Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie and Kazuo Ishiguro among others. The mental disorders Self endures are all – in restrained form – prerequisites for fiction but, as Walking to Hollywood implies, they can be insidious.

However, with a flick-knife perceptiveness sheathed in his distinctive, stylistic invention, that is both sleek and ornate, Self ought to have nothing to fear. This is a remarkable, dextrous book about professional anomie and identity disorder that, in more ways than one, could only be written by someone called Will Self.

Jonathan Beckman is the assistant editor of the Literary Review

    Last updated: 3:16pm, February 18 2011