Ooh, she’s a clever one, author Sam Mills: playing on the desires of queer-lit-loving postmodernists with the title of her latest book alone. Of course you’d pick it up if you were already a fan of the surreal-lit work of Will Self, if not merely stumbled upon it if ever searching for titles by the name-checked twisted writer himself.
But Mills goes that much further in her aim to seduce a broader variety of broader-minded readers in turning what could have been an obscure chick-lit novel into a cross-gender mind-fuck, her prose taking up the soul of a lovelorn man in the first act, that of a deceased woman in the second act, the embodiment of a future woman set way down the line in 2049 before the end, lending a sci-fi bent to an already genre-bleeding affair.
The first of these protagonists, Richard, bumps into a neighbour, Sylvie, who is a member of the Will Self Club (WSC from here on) – the latter so infatuated with her writer hero that she is halfway through a surgical makeover to look like him when her body is found dead and conveniently discovered by Richard.
Though Sylvie’s body has been utterly morphed, then discarded, her soul lingers – outside the window of Will Self’s study, seeking to influence her idol’s latest novel before she can rest in peace. Meanwhile, Richard is infatuated with her ghost – as fleeting as his meeting with her was – and goes so far as to join the WSC himself, soon falling into an abyss of bizarre rituals with an elite group of other Self lit lovers.
Follow? Never mind. The erratic arcs and subplots of this novel are what give it its charm – and what eeps you hooked, if only to find out the point of it all.
Sam Mills’ writing style is cunning, to say the least, seeing to it that her characters – Richard, especially – carry out actions so extreme that the lines between gender (and sanity) of the subjects you’re reading about become blurred themselves. The political correctness is pushed so far at times, you can only assume that all the extremity and insult will make eventually make way for redemption. As an example, she over-uses the word ‘rape’ so flippantly, and seemingly with disregard to its dangerous connotations, that the reader forces him- or herself to turn off the credibility switch and just go with the crude flow (well okay, then, just to see how far Mills will go with it).
I, myself, think that the overuse of any offensive or sensitive word is okay when the point of it is to desensitise and thereby diffuse negative myths surrounding the initial attributions (egs: faggot, nigger, bitch), but a subject such as rape should never be considered something of desensitising value.
That said, Mills is most bold in her post-feminist prose – and that is what most fans would consider it – and a book like this might at least get gaggles of guys and girls in book-clubs the world over debating and dissertating such delicate topics.
The Quiddity of Will Self is a page-turner of a read, all the same, although I wouldn’t recommend it for stuffing into your Nan’s or very young niece’s Christmas stocking.
The Quiddity of Will Self – A Novel is published by Constable & Robinson and available in Australia through Allen & Unwin, RRP $19.99.