Dave's Book

When his wife, Michelle, leaves him for another man, taking their son along too, cabbie Dave Rudman falls to pieces. Fuelled by psychotic mania, he writes a book – a sort of hate-diary in which personal history, professional arcana and bigoted rants ramblingly commingle. Dave buries this ‘rich brocade of parable, chiasmus and homily’ in the garden of his wife’s new house – a posh gaff in Hampstead – where, hundreds of years in the future, when most of England has been destroyed by flooding, it is discovered by a small tribe called the Hamsters. (They live on what used to be Hampstead Heath, now the Isle of Ham.)

The Hamsters, who mostly speak in Mokni – standard greeting: ‘Ware2, guv?’ – treat the book as a holy text and believe Dave to be a god ‘who sees all of us in his rear-view mirror’. Dave’s rules are strictly adhered to: mummies and daddies live apart but split the childcare 50/50 (though actually, female ‘opares’ look after the kids during ‘daddytime’); days are measured in ‘tariffs’; and everyone lives in fear of the PCO (Public Carriage Office), whose spies or ‘seeseeteeveemen’ are everywhere, and which breaks on the wheel those it deems to have insufficient Knowledge.

It’s incredible to think there was a time when Will Self was patronised as a poor man’s Martin Amis. Amis would kill to have written ‘The Book of Dave’, which is dazzling on so many levels, it’s hard to keep track. We’re shuttled in alternating chapters between Dave’s present and the Hamsters’ future, and there is a temptation to hurry through the Ham sections, which take some deciphering, in search of the next hilarious Dave instalment. But readers should resist lest they miss the gags lodged deep within the nexus of cross-referencing.

Control is a quality Self has had to learn: previous books have sometimes felt undone by their author’s sheer facility, as if Self believed his main duty as a novelist was simply to get the stuff down on the page. But ‘The Book of Dave’ is considered as well as impassioned, kind as well as cruel. Black cabbies are easy to caricature, and Self’s achievement here, amid the satirical fireworks, is to make Dave not only human but capable of redemption. The result is one of the finest and funniest London novels in years.

And then what are you waiting for? We have the finest version of ‘The Book of Dave’ at Bloom, the hardcover, and it's ready to go onto your reading time and into your life.

The Book of Dave by Will Self
Publisher: Viking / Penguin • Hardcover • 495 pages • ISBN:978-0670914432 • 2006


  1. Trelloskilos said...
    It's one thing, for a writer, to think of a premise that would make an entertaining book, and quite another to be able to write it with a style and panache that suits the content. In "The Book of Dave", Will Self proves that he is more than capable of pulling both off at the same time.

    In the novel, two stories are intertwined. One set in the recent past, and another set 500 years into the future. The first tale tells of Dave Rudman, a London cabbie, who is descending into a state of depression, madness & desparation after the breakup of his marriage, and a messy divorce cutting him off from his son. At the depths of his despair, Dave decides to write a book for his son, part fatherly advice, part delusional rant, in lieu of being able to see his boy.

    In the future, after a disaster has flooded the world, the book that Dave wrote is a foundation for a whole religion, where Dave's personal beliefs are magnified, distorted and misinterpreted, and Dave himself is considered a Deity. In this future, a young boy Carl Denevush, embarks on a quest to find his heretic father, and to find the 'Second book'.

    At first, "The Book of Dave" appears to be a challenging read. Reminiscent of 'Cloud Atlas', or 'A Clockwork Orange', the parts of the story set in the future are written in a 'Mockney' dialect, so conversations are distorted on paper. However, like the previously mentioned novels, once the reader relaxes into the rhythm and the style of the book, "The Book of Dave" is a rewarding and enjoyable read.

    One of the strongest aspects of the book is Will Self's ability to create very real characters. Even minor players are fleshed out and believable, and the interplay is convincing. Dave's own character, is both repugnant and endearing at the same time. The backdrops of a gritty present day London, and the dystopian ruralized future are well-presented and beautifully written. Admittedly, it's not a 'page-turning rip-roaring rollercoaster of a read', but if you wanted that, you'd be reading Dan Brown.

    Where the novel really succeeds is in the messages it pushes to the reader. The main question it poses is to consider our own religious ritual and belief system, and its origins. For example, would we ignore the Dead Sea Scrolls if they revealed something that would threaten to challenge the very foundations of christianity? More contemporary and accessable questions regarding religion, family, divorce & separation, and alienation are also handled with aplomb, and even with a little humour.

    Regardless of what you may think about the author - Whether you just remember him from his brief stint on the comedy game show "Shooting Stars", or have dismissed his other publications, "The Book of Dave" is a very worthwhile novel that I'd recommend to anyone.
    "Mad John" said...
    This was the first book by Will Self that I'd read. I bought it after a review in the Guardian last year and having gone through a bitter separation from my ex, with access to children denied for a time, etc, etc, this booked looked very interesting. It is not an easy read, the futuristic language takes some time to adjust to, the swapping through different time spans, not only back and forth from present to future, but back and forth between future time made me more than once look back to the index to check where and which time I was in. As others have written, the breakdown of Dave is excellent, I actually had to put the book down once or twice at this stage due to its closeness to a situation that I had recently exited. You do really feel for the guy. The ending was a letdown and also quite saddening, I found myself hoping for a happy ending, but was not to be. This will make you laugh, cry, frustrated and disapointed. An excellent read if you can stick with it, the perserverance pays off.
    T. Hartshorn said...
    I finished this on Sunday and it's taken me that long to formulate what I want to say about the book. I'm not a fan of Self, as I'm inclined to think of him as a pretentious git. Well, pretentious git he may be, but that doesn't alter the fact that the man is one hell of a writer. The Book of Dave is a novel set in two different times. In a distopian future, a flood swamped Britain and the people of Ham in Ing (England) base their life and morals on The Book of Dave, a sacred text written by a London cabbie. They live a simbiotic relationship with the motos, a strange pig/humanlike animal that speaks in a child-like way and who are loved by all, but which the Hamsters don't hesitate to sacrifice and eat in some long held ritual.

    In our recent past, the Dave in question is a normal cabbie working in London, and suffering an enormous nervous breakdown after his wife leaves him, taking their son with her and leaving Dave with enormous lawyers' bills. During a psychotic episode, Dave writes his code for the future, based on the London A2Z and The Knowledge as learned by all London cabbies. He also throws in a few doctrines of his own, unaware that the book is going to be found by anyone else (though having it rendered in metal does suggest he knew what he was doing!)

    Hundreds of years later, children especially feel the effects of Dave's 'word' as their parents live completely separate lives (the breakup) and children are forced to spend one half of the week with their mothers and the other half with their fathers (the changeover). Anyone found flaunting the rule is broken on the wheel. A young boy called Carl (Dave's son was also called Carl) decides to question the status quo, as did his father, Symun, before him and the future part of the novel tells both their stories. But much has been subverted, with the people of Ham and others in Ing misunderstanding even the most obvious definitions of words. For example, anything in plastic is considered 'real' whereas anything made from natural materials is 'toyist'.

    The recent past part of the story tells Dave's tale, and shows him coming to terms with the break up. He's a very unsavoury character, and not the sort of man you'd want setting the morals of the nation, until he meets Phyllis, who gives him the unconditional love he needs. Unfortunately, his change of heart never reaches the dreadful future, though there is a mention of a second book (but as it's kept in a 'toyist' vessel, it's never even found).

    The novel, though brilliant in its nightmare vision of the future, takes some reading. The people of the future speak in a 'sarf' London patois, but once you realise it's mostly phonetic, it's okay. It's almost a relief to get back to the past to read something in proper English (or Arpee as it's called in the future). Further confusion comes from the fact that all characters, recent past and future, have the same names.

    It really is one of the most thought-provoking books I've read in a long time, in its nightmare vision of a world where family values are eroded, and women and children are treated abominably and even the men suffer from the lack of a female point of view in their lives. It's desperately sad and brutal in places.

    There's a hint that Dave really is some sort of prophet as much of what he says, mainly his names for various things, gets to the people of Ham, even though they're not written in the original book.

    It's definitely a book that pays careful reading. I haven't given it a 5 as there was one strand, involving the motos where I felt we were being led down the wrong path, and it's almost as if Self chickened out at the end.
    Lori Chiu said...
    I want to read it right away.

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