On several levels, novelist Will Self’s memoir, Will, is anything but an easy read ... But if you are looking for a painfully honest exploration of the nightmare of addiction, one that’s offered with a large helping of ironic humor, then you’ll find that Self, if often an unappealing companion, is rarely an uninteresting one ... Writing in the third person, Self is a keen, remarkably unsparing observer of his disastrous early adulthood ... For all his self-absorption and the litany of his self-destructive escapades, Self grows on the reader in odd ways ...
There’s even a certain poignancy ... His manic style evokes both Hunter S. Thompson and Anthony Burgess ... This is a disturbing trip through a benighted world that most people will be fortunate never to experience, something for which they should be profoundly grateful.
Self’s latest act of perversity is to follow up...acclaimed novels with a drug memoir told in the third person ... Will feels snatched from another age. It recalls the great wave of drug memoirs that came in the 1990s, and particularly Ann Marlowe’s superb, genre-bending How to Stop Time: Heroin from A to Z. Like that book, Will’s formal structure is central to its impact ... It’s less a stream of consciousness, more like five pools with countless rivulets running between them ... This material is intensely, almost wilfully, familiar, so that reading becomes a battle between the predictability of the subject matter and the darkly angelic prose in which it is expressed. After [the] baleful first chapter, the book is a joy to read, with the final part in particular recalling David Foster Wallace at his best, taking on the 'bogus syncretism of Christianity and sub-Freudian psychotherapy' of AA ... If, as [Self] says early on in the book, 'there’s nothing remotely exciting about heroin addiction', there’s more than mere nostalgic pleasure in this gleefully self-lacerating memoir of drug abuse and rehab.
The logistical minutiae of drug-taking have always been exceedingly boring ... As for drug-fuelled escapades, these are invariably funnier in the recollection than in the retelling. Mercifully, Will isn’t really that kind of memoir: Self relates his adventures in the narcotic wilderness – encompassing amphetamines, cocaine and, most notably, heroin – with a certain clinical detachment...There are occasional moments of earnest candour...but the prevailing tone is sardonic ... The young drug fiend endures a succession of calamities ... These sections are as colourful as you’d expect, but it’s the quotidian details of domestic and familial life that really catch the eye ... Self’s ruminations on class are among the most compelling passages in the book, evincing that contrary blend of snobbish and egalitarian sentiments that is the quintessence of the English middle classes ... Self is never happier than when frolicking in the hinterland between sincerity and performative, winking hyperbole. There is a pantomimic quality to his prose, deployed to a variety of effects ... On still other occasions it is gratuitous, apparently designed solely to prevent your attention from drifting – rather like a children’s party entertainer addressing himself to a roomful of five-year-olds ... There is a refreshing lack of contrition in these pages, soaked as they are in the hubristic folly of youth.