A brother is as easily forgotten as an umbrella. James Joyce, Ulysses Recently having abandoned his RD Laing-influenced experiment in running a therapeutic community - the so-called Concept House in Willesden - maverick psychiatrist Zack Busner arrives at Friern Hospital, a vast Victorian mental asylum in North London, under a professional and a marital cloud. He has every intention of avoiding controversy, but then he encounters Audrey Dearth, a working-class girl from Fulham born in 1890 who has been immured in Friern for decades. A socialist, a feminist and a munitions worker at the Woolwich Arsenal, Audrey fell victim to the encephalitis lethargica sleeping sickness epidemic at the end of the First World War and, like one of the subjects in Oliver Sacks' Awakenings, has been in a coma ever since. Realising that Audrey is just one of a number of post-encephalitics scattered throughout the asylum, Busner becomes involved in an attempt to bring them back to life - with wholly unforeseen consequences.
The major new novel by the author of Great Apes, How the Dead Live and The Book of Dave
In these culturally straitened times few writers would have the artistic effrontery to offer us a novel as daring, exuberant and richly dense as Umbrella. Will Self has carried the Modernist challenge into the twenty-first century, and worked a wonder John Banville Umbrella is his best book yet ... It makes new for today the lessons taught by the morals of Catch 22, Slaughterhouse Five, The Tin Drum, also Marquez's Chronicle of a Death Foretold Alasdair Gray Umbrella is old-school modernism. It isn't supposed to be a breeze. But it is, to use the literary critical term of art, kind of amazing ... I think this may be Will Self's best book -- Sam Leith Observer This is by far Will Self's best novel; clever, intense, ambitious and risky. It is a novel so arch that it bends over backwards, joining together its own extremities of kindness and indifference, with and banality, of forgetting and remembering, love and loathing, first page, last page -- Tom Adair Scotsman An astonishing achievement, a novel of exhilarating linguistic invention and high moral seriousness. Certainly, he deserves to win the prize; but more significantly, this is a novel which will be read and re-read, as much for its emotional weight as its technical virtuosity ... With this book he reveals himself as the most determinedly and delightfully literary novelist of his generation -- Stuart Kelly Scotland on Sunday There are echoes of Joyce and Eliot, but also of Flaubert ... there is also a great deal of humour -- Brian Dillon New Statesman One cannot help recalling Joyce ... Umbrella is a magnificent celebration of modernist prose, an epic account of the first world war, a frightening investigation into the pathology of mental illness ... Self's ambition and talent have produced something of real cultural significance ... Umbrella must be recognised as, above all, a virtuoso triumph of emotional and creative intelligence -- Stig Abell, Spectator Extraordinary -- Sheena Joughin Sunday Telegraph