Though he’s perhaps best known and appreciated as a wry, angular TV personality and journalist, this is Will Self’s ninth novel and his first to be longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
In 1918, Audrey Death, a feminist, socialist and munitions worker, falls ill and enters a catatonic state. More than 50 years later, Dr Zack Busner gives her a drug which wakes her from her condition.
In 2010, the same, now retired, doctor journeys across London to the institution where it all took place, in search of answers.
A work of modernist fiction, Umbrella can be hard work for the reader as the narrative voice shifts from character to character and from era to era with no warning and at times mid-sentence.
With no chapters to stem the flow, the text reads like a vivid account of a brilliantly poetic lucid dream. All the more rewarding for being so structurally challenging, it’s an exhilarating experience.