The Book of Dave
by Will Self
As the subtitle says this is “A Revelation of the Recent Past and the Distant Future”.
The story begins on the Manor of Ham, an island of the now flooded city that was once London. Here the inhabitants, the Hamsters, live their daily lives according to the Book (of Dave). Five hundred years previously the eponymous Dave, a forty-something cabbie, in a fit of psychotic jealous rage, buried the book in the Hampstead garden of his ex wife Michelle. Dave’s book, written at the beginning of the twenty first century, is a rant on the unfairness of his lot. A lot that he doesn’t really comprehend. It is a personal history of infidelity, Child Support, depression, drug and alcohol abuse and the trials and tribulations of a London black cab driver – all laced with large helpings of homespun philosophy. Now disinterred, the Book is revered as a holy scripture by the Hamsters, its every word adhered to, and life is lived by Daviian rules. Dave is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent - he sees all in “the rear view mirror”.
The London of the future is a dark and dangerous place where the rules of Dave are sacrosanct: a place where childcare is split fifty-fifty between the “mummies” and “daddies” who live apart; where days are split into “tariffs”; and the standard greeting is “Ware2 gov”. The Hamsters speak “Mokni”, a language culled from Dave’s book. Some words seem obvious - food is “curry”, head - “bonce”, lawyer - “breef”. But Self shows a lyrical side (in fact much of the writing is really beautiful) with his choice of words for the natural world: “buddout” – spring; “buddyspike” - buddleia; “prettybeaks” – puffins and, my favourite, “chrissyleaf” – holly.
This book is a carefully and brilliantly written satire alternating chapters shuttling between Dave in the present and Ham in the future. It is in turn lyrical, sad, funny and sometimes horrible, and deserves time and concentration. Will Self gives more than a nod to Russell Hoban’s RIDDLEY WALKER (another of our reviewed books this month) for which he wrote a brilliant introduction to the twentieth century anniversary edition.