"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 20th 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.
Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?
Yes, but only if she had the (e)book with her to follow along, it's tough to listen-only the first time through.
What other book might you compare Umbrella to and why?
Suppose it'd have to be Ulysses. High modernist and all that.
Which character – as performed by John Lee – was your favorite?
Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?
When Audrey first speaks, Busner's return to what are now apartments.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
A mangled "Umbrella" on the cover of Will Self’s book presages a story of discarded lives in mental asylums that presumably shelter and heal wreaked minds. Self’s picture of a mental asylum belies the definition of shelter and treatment. Rather than shelter, Self’s asylum is an indoor latrine that never flushes; a facility that assuages consciences of healthy relatives, and offers jobs to incompetent psychiatrists and uncaring caregivers.
In the first half of "Umbrella", a listener is disoriented by something like stream of consciousness that flows back and forth between a mental asylum’s routines and earlier lives of asylum’ patients. The narrator’s voice (literally, John Lee) keeps a listener’s mind in the story, but as the story progresses, Will Self’s authorship asserts its self. Self suggests industrialization of the world breeds social discontent through devaluation of human worth that increases mental illness and distorts medical treatment. Self’s story infers distortion of medical treatment is compounded by the same engines that drive industrialization to increase mental illness.
An optimist would argue that Self’s story is wrong about the effect of industrialization, and a pessimist would say it is right. A realist would suggest the story is both right and wrong.
The technological revolution is disrupting society today in as profound a way as industrialization did in the twentieth century. Like industrialization, technological’ disruption is good and bad. The important question is whether the world is progressing toward goodness or evil in these monumental disruptions. Are human beings being re-purposed or discarded? Or, to paraphrase former President Reagan and today’s President Obama, is society better off now than before?
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
The story is engaging, at times fascinating, but it is written as a continuous, chapterleas stream, with strands picking up in the middle of other strands, which makes following the story challenging if anything is happening that could distract you.