"A brother is as easily forgotten as an umbrella."—James Joyce, Ulysses
Radical and uncompromising, Umbrella is a tour de force from one of England’s most acclaimed contemporary writers, and Self’s most ambitious novel to date. Moving between Edwardian London and a suburban mental hospital in 1971, Umbrella exposes the twentieth century’s technological searchlight as refracted through the dark glass of a long term mental institution. While making his first tours of the hospital at which he has just begun working, maverick psychiatrist Zachary Busner notices that many of the patients exhibit a strange physical tic: rapid, precise movements that they repeat over and over. One of these patients is Audrey Dearth, an elderly woman born in the slums of West London in 1890. Audrey’s memories of a bygone Edwardian London, her lovers, involvement with early feminist and socialist movements, and, in particular, her time working in an umbrella shop, alternate with Busner’s attempts to treat her condition and bring light to her clouded world. Busner’s investigations into Audrey’s illness lead to discoveries about her family that are shocking and tragic.
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Self s sweeping experimental new novel (after Walking to Hollywood) creaks under the weight of chaotic complexity. At its core lies a fractured matrix only partially resembling a coherent story. For more than 50 years, octogenarian Audrey Death aka De Ath, Deeth, Deerth has languished in North London s Friern Mental Hospital, suffering from encephalitis lethargica a brain-damaging sleeping sickness she contracted in 1918 that renders patients either whirled into a twisted immobility, or else unwound spastic, hypotonic. In 1971, whiz-bang psychiatrist Zachary Busner attempts to revive her and other enkies by plying them with L-Dopa (an anti-Parkinson s drug). A fleeting reawakening reveals jarring glimpses into Audrey s past (a hardscrabble childhood in Edwardian England; a job at a WWI munitions factory; a raunchy love affair with a married man), with alternating flashbacks to the lives of her brothers Stan (a gunner in the war) and Bert (a puffed-up civil servant), and jumps forward to Busner in 2010 reminiscing about his past (a failed marriage; adultery; his mixed career). Lacking chapter breaks, paragraph separations (mostly), and hopping between these four characters stream-of-consciousness points of view, the already puzzling tome can be difficult to follow, let alone grasp. But with snippets of dialects, stylistic flourishes, and inventive phrases loose with meaning, for those who grab hold and hang on, the experience falls just shy of brilliant.
Customer ReviewsSee All
This is a fantastic book, although I am only 1/5 of the way through it. Perhaps Booker or Nobel-worthy, it's that brilliant so far.
The reason I hate it and rate it 1 star is that the iBooks version is REALLY BAD. After the sample section, every time there is a ligature (a combination of f with certain other letters, e.g., fj, fl (ﬂ), ff (ﬀ), ffi (ﬃ), and ffl (ﬄ) ) the optical character recognition they use to scan the book has failed and you end up with a broken word. For example, stuff becomes "stu[", identified becomes "identin ed", confirm "conn rm" and so on. There are about one or two of these per page, which totally destroys the pleasure of reading, for me at least.
Don't buy the iBooks version until they note that this problem has been fixed.