A giant new novel from Booker-shortlisted Will Self completes his Neo-modernist trilogy, begun with Umbrella, and continued with Shark. An exploration of technology and psychopathology from World War I to WikiLeaks, a story of love, death, and madness.
...true to its title, this is not a quiet book. It's insistent, untidy, and enormously personal. Self works swingingly right in the middle of his chosen modernist territory: his book is a relentless torrent pouring over the reader without any break – no pauses, no paragraphs, no chapters, scarcely an in-drawn breath for its entire length, always with loudly insistent thoughts roaring under the thin attempts at thin surface narration ... Such a novel as Phone requires an extensive, almost punitive amount of work from its readers. But even more so than its two predecessors, Phone is worth the struggle. The book is, in addition to all its stylistic pyrotechnics, a magnificent portrait of fragility, the best thing Will Self has ever written.
The final installment, a 600-page single paragraph, is more exhausting and less focused than its predecessors, but it's a memorable jeremiad against the folly of war, the insidiousness of aging and the ways in which modern communications can push people apart as much as draw them together ... Self is more interested in the possibilities of language than the machinations of plot ... Self is as scatologically and libidinously freewheeling as ever. But one feels upon reading this book as if the say-anything shocks exist mainly for shock's sake. Much of Phone, especially erotic passages featuring prostitutes, wives and paramours, reads like an older male writer's idea of an edgy novel. Indeed, much of Phone feels like a book that, stylistically and thematically ... What's new, however, is the condemnation of the Iraq War and the colorful vitriol against Tony Blair and others who led the call for the conflict. And the prose is undeniably vivid throughout.
Self does a rather beautiful job of sketching in the details of precisely who Busner is, how he came to be here, and where he’s headed next ... It’s all rather rich and full of potential, but then, out of nowhere and without even so much as a paragraph break, we are rocketed into a parallel life ... De’Ath’s back-story — involving his homophobic parents and the challenges of being closeted while pursuing a military and espionage career– is intriguing enough, but it lacks the urgency and emotional depth of Busner’s story ... it never feels like very much to hang your hat on, certainly not enough to propel one through hundreds of densely packed pages ... A lack of plot need not be an impediment to the success of a novel but something has to develop over the course of a work, or else one has stasis, and this is an issue with Phone ... The result is an energetic ride that offers a lot of fun and erudition — probably for many readers that will be enough. Phone presents a thoroughly domesticated, tamed version of modernism, akin to some enormous, armor-plated rhinoceros that’s been so subdued by the forces of civilization that you can walk right up to it and hop on its back. Taming such a creature might well be admired as a feat: but it leaves us wanting a confrontation with something wilder.