The final part of Will Self’s modernist trilogy famous for its lack of paragraphs and preponderance of big words, Phone is more of the same; frequently frustrating, stubbornly literary and ultimately brilliant. Written again without paragraphs in his trademark run-on style, this is fiction that accelerates off the page as you read, in a torrent of euphemisms, witticisms and aphorisms.
It’s heady stuff. We’re constantly being uprooted, pulled from thought to thought, place to place, character to character and time to time without warning (and always mid-sentence). We spend spells in the brains of (among others) Zach Busner, an aging psychiatrist who’s equal parts OIiver Sacks and King Lear; a spy called the Butcher, who applies the tricks of his trade to night-time homosexual conquests; and Gawain, the closeted military man he seduces.
We’re completely submerged in each character’s psyche, hearing the songs they can’t get out of their heads, the reminiscences from forty years or four seconds ago, and even, in the case of the Butcher, the private mental conversations they have with their genitalia. Which means that as occasionally arduous as the act of following this cluttered and restless prose can be, it’s as near an analogue to actually being inside a person’s consciousness as I’ve ever read. To accurately depict the life of the mind is an astonishing feat, and Self nails it in laudable style.
Our author is really pushing the envelope here, and like similarly impenetrable works like Ulysses or Samuel Beckett’s Trilogy, Phone is incredibly rewarding once you’re knee-deep in it. Plus it’s really funny, which always helps.