Sunday, July 29, 2007

In the Name of the Father

The Book of Dave by Will Self (2006)

The Father, State, King and God are each subject for extensive narrative reworking or remix in Will Self’s epic The Book of Dave from 2006, published by Viking. Metalepsis is the key to The Book of Dave, where words take the reader down long tunnels of associations and in affect stitch the several parallel stories of the novel together. At the beginnings of The Book of Dave it is somewhat difficult to hang with narrative, due to the use of dialect and the invented language of Mokni; a phonetically spelt derivative of hip hop slang, text chat, cockney rhyming and the terminology of London taxi drivers (cabbies). The last of these is The Knowledge, a complex wrote leaned system of ‘runs’ that each London cab driver learns if they are obtain a licence to drive in the chaos overseen by the Public Carriage Office (PCO). In a way that reminded me of Irving Welsh's Trainspotting (1993), the language of The Book of Dave colonizes your head and after a while u can c it in ze “mirra. Uz iz lookin awl ve tym wit dem – Dave iz lookin in ve mirra á uz, an lookin froo ve screen 4 ve Loss Boy. An uppabuv im, mi luv, uppabuv im vairs ve Flyin I, an ee sees all ve wirl.” (22). Patience that’s all it takes to get into the style, but is it worth it?
It goes like this:

“It tells the story of an angry and mentally-ill Cockney London taxi driver named Dave Rudman, who writes and has printed on metal a book of his rantings against women and thoughts on custody rights for fathers. These stem from his anger with his ex-wife, Michelle, who he believes is unfairly keeping him from his son. Equally influential in Dave's book is The Knowledge -- the intimate familiarity with the city of London required of its cabbies.
Dave buries the book he has made of metal plates at great expense. The text is discovered centuries later and used as the sacred text for a misogynistic religion that takes hold in the remnants of southern England and London following catastrophic flooding. The future portions of The Book of Dave are set over 500 years after the metal text is discovered.”

That’s the basic story from the Wikipedia. The ‘Hamsters’ Those living on the isolated Isle of Ham (all that remains of Hampstead Heath centuries into the future from Dave’s London of the decade split either side of the year 2000) worship Dave, as does most of the population of Ing, all that remains of England. They follow his book; the changeover, child support, the PCO, calling out the runs, fear and hate the evil ‘Chelle’ and the Drivers (priests) dominates an agrarian society of violence, surveillance and inequality (especially for women who are treated as animals). Crimes are punished by spectacular acts of ritual violence and heresy is such a crime. Basically the alternating chapters of The Book of Dave that are set in the dystopian future reminded me a lot of what I have read about life in Elizabethan London (1533-1603); spy networks, poverty (disfigured, diseased and often drunk) and enormous wealth (also disfigured and often diseased) pass each other on the crowded streets (the sewers of which were open channels of putrid waste) as well as secret societies and forbidden knowledge. The majority of the population work until they drop, often in rural labour, while the rich impose a faith based system of control upon them. Two great texts on the time are Elizabeth Hanson, Discovering the Subject in Renaissance England (Cambridge University Press, 1998) and Charles Nicholl, The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe (Vintage, 2002).
Those chapters set in the recent present are a narrative study in male anger and the role of ‘The Father’ in society. Imagine The Handmaid’s Tale meets Waterworld. The review in The Guardian made comparisons with The Book of Dave to the worlds of Jonathan Swift, presumably due to the humor of the passages where Dave the man is still on earth ("Self's satire is Swiftian in its casually sneering manner and fondness for misanthropy.") I found them extremely shameful but poignant, although without the depth of Swift, as Dave attempts to work out who the hell he is underneath a thick strata of anger, hate, feelings of betrayal (that seem to begin with his own Father, a cab driver who Dave worshipped but really had little contact with) and his own perceived inadequacies. The final aspect of the character is epitomized in his struggle with baldness; he travels to France to undergo radical hair transplants with donor hair taken from his own scrotum. For weeks he lives life with a thick thatch of fuzzy pubic hair crowning his blistered dome before he admits defeat and pays a large sum to have the pubes removed, wearing a baseball cap from then on. It is about the same time that Dave starts bashing his wife. We never do really learn who is Dave.........
Alone the Dave story would be another depressing account of a contemporary man not able to accept his ‘mummyself’ to quote the heretics of Ing. But without this very contemporary lens through which to look at the misogynistic orgy of the future land of Ing the present social relevance of The Book of Dave would fall away. Like The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985), The Book of Dave has many dark truths below its surfaces that are not so difficult to recognize in our own cultures of ‘The Father’.
“We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God], Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made [both in heaven and on earth]; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man.” Nicene Creed 325 A.D.

No comments: