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Saturday, August 11, 2018

Great Apes (1997) by Will Self

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English author Will Self poses with a bronze monkey statue.
Book Review
Great Apes (1997)
by Will Self

  I bought a hard back copy of Great Apes when it came out in 1997.  At the time, I considered myself a fan of English author Will Self.  My Idea of Fun, written in 1993 made a deep impression on young me- the character of the Fat Controller is still something I think about from time to time.  How the Dead Live was a 1001 Book project selection- a marginal selection in my mind, and the exclusion of My Idea of Fun is a mistake.  Self has written a  half dozen novels, including three high modernist books about one of the characters from this book, psychiatrist Zachary Busner.   Busner appears in Self's fiction most often as a human- here- like all the characters, Busner is a chimpanzee, living in a world where evolution took a different turn and chimpanzees run the show, and humans are relegated to the zoo and increasingly small patches of sub-equatorial Africa.

  Simon Dykes, a human painter known for large format, highly detailed works of apocalyptica, wakes up from a typical night of sex and drugs debauchery to discover that he, as well as everyone else, is a chimp.   Dykes is quickly whisked off to a mental institution, where he becomes the object of attention for Busner, who views Dykes as his last great case.  Almost 20 years later, Great Apes has aged extremely well, and it might be time for a new edition to remind everyone just how bold and inventive Great Apes was.

  Self is fearless in his imagining his world of sentient chimpanzees.  A crucial difference is in sexual relations, sex in the chimpanzee world is extremely casual, and, as they say, endogamous (between family members).  Child abuse is NOT having sex with your children.  And while the imaging of Chimpunity is truly spectacular, the narrative itself is conventional, and Self eschews the kind of narrative shenanigans that make his later books so tough to digest.

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