From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
*Starred Review* This demanding but rewarding latest effort from Self takes place in an English mental hospital in 1971 and, through a longtime and nearly catatonic patient there, in the WWI era of her youth. The shifting perspectives are those of psychiatrist Zachary Busner, a recurring character in Self's fiction who may remind the reader (perhaps too much) of the Oliver Sacks of Awakenings or of R. D. Laing and patient Audrey Dearth (or De'ath, or Death). Newly arrived at the facility, Busner rejects the facile diagnosis of mental illness that generations of professionals have attached to patients, including Dearth, whose physical symptoms he believes may be manifestations of a treatable medical condition rather than psychiatric in origin. The misdiagnoses of his predecessors have had profound consequences; Dearth has been institutionalized for a half-century. As she responds to medication, it becomes clear that she has been conscious and aware much of that time, and, now again articulate, she reveals a horrific family drama dating back to The Great War. Joycean in its rhythm and style, Umbrella lacks chapter breaks, and its paragraphs frequently run to several pages. This is not an easy read, but it is a major and unforgettable one. The English edition was short-listed for the 2012 Man Booker Prize, and, with it, the prolific maverick Self may have written his best book yet and may gain well-merited recognition.--Levine, Mark Copyright 2010 Booklist
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Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Self's sweeping experimental new novel (after Walking to Hollywood) creaks under the weight of chaotic complexity. At its core lies a fractured matrix only partially resembling a coherent story. For more than 50 years, octogenarian Audrey Death aka De'Ath, Deeth, Deerth has languished in North London's Friern Mental Hospital, suffering from encephalitis lethargica-a brain-damaging sleeping sickness she contracted in 1918 that renders patients either "whirled into a twisted immobility, or else unwound spastic, hypotonic." In 1971, whiz-bang psychiatrist Zachary Busner attempts to revive her and other "enkies" by plying them with L-Dopa (an anti-Parkinson's drug). A fleeting reawakening reveals jarring glimpses into Audrey's past (a hardscrabble childhood in Edwardian England; a job at a WWI munitions factory; a raunchy love affair with a married man), with alternating flashbacks to the lives of her brothers Stan (a gunner in the war) and Bert (a puffed-up civil servant), and jumps forward to Busner in 2010 reminiscing about his past (a failed marriage; adultery; his mixed career). Lacking chapter breaks, paragraph separations (mostly), and hopping between these four characters' stream-of-consciousness points of view, the already puzzling tome can be difficult to follow, let alone grasp. But with snippets of dialects, stylistic flourishes, and inventive phrases loose with meaning, for those who grab hold and hang on, the experience falls just shy of brilliant. Agent: Andrew Wylie, the Wylie Agency. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.