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Great Apes (Will Self) Paperback – August 11, 1998


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Product Details

  • Series: Will Self
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press (August 11, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802135765
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802135766
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #937,983 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Like Kafka's Gregor Samsa, London artist Simon Dykes has suffered a surprising transformation?he's become a chimpanzee. So has everyone else around him, but he doesn't realize it. Dumped in a mental hospital for his delusional thinking, Simon comes under the care of Dr. Busner (an alpha male) and tries to understand the strange new world around him. Chimpanzees are indeed the ascendant primates; humans are a fading offshoot that have simply failed to learn how to sign or vocalize properly. As one might expect from Self (Cock & Bull, LJ 3/1/93), this situation provides ample opportunity for a lacerating send-up of contemporary human society, and Self can be very funny. But as a whole it doesn't really work. The alternative chimp society is not persuasive, and Self is too busy with bad-boy langauge and obsessive sex to get at deeper issues. Buy where Self is popular.?Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Simon Dykes is a successful London painter who arrives at a point where he ponders the futility of life: he's in the throes of serious angst, particularly his corporeal self is weighing him down. His latest apocalyptic paintings are disturbing and reflect his narcissistic fixation on the body. So he decides to forgo drugs on the fateful evening that he is to meet his lady, the lovely Sarah Peasenhulme, and the rest of their clique; but then the evening assumes its own momentum and drugs flow bountifully. After a night of halting lovemaking, Simon awakens to find himself in bed with an ape, a chimpanzee. Soon he discovers he is in a world dominated by chimpanzees. Despite appearances, Simon maintains that he is a human and hovers on the brink of madness until Dr. Zack Busner, clinical psychologist, maverick drug researcher, former television personality, and alpha male at the top of his reign, decides to take on the case and bring Simon to an understanding of his "chimpunity." Self creates a fully realized chimp world with this Kafkaesque, or Swiftian, satire that hypnotizes with its comic romps, existential posturings, and Shakespearean intrigues. Certain to find a readership beyond Self loyalists. Bonnie Smothers --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Mike Stone on October 7, 2000
Format: Paperback
I don't think that this book's satire is its strongest suit. Sure, Mr. Self manages to poke fun at humanity's romantic notions of love, relationship, and affection, by pointing a giant ape-sized mirror up to us. But that is really just a minor part of the book. He's really involved in a drawn out discussion of semiotics. By giving his ape-society an entirely different form of communication (signing), he's able to call attention to the way that we communicate with each other. Okay, I've said my piece.
The descriptions and displays of the ape society are nearly perfect. The constant grooming, "arse-kissing" (literally; it's a display of respect), physical recriminations, and especially the wall-to-wall copulating ("mating") are jarring at first, but eventually become routine for the reader. If there's any satire here, it's in Self trying to elicit a horrified response from his more prudish readers. I found the rules and regulations of his ape society fascinating and very well drawn.
I also enjoyed the fact that he took human cultural items (O.J. Simpson, HIV/AIDS, The Planet of the Apes movies) and hypostatized them, as they would appear in the ape world. He also had much fun substituting human for chimp/ape and chimp/ape for human whenever he could ("chimpanity", going "human sh*t", etc.)
My complaints about the novel are thus:
The secondary plot, in which several ape underlings conspire to form an alliance against Dr. Busner, felt tacked on. It never went anywhere, and hardly affected the plot. The one revelation that it provided had literally no dramatic effect at all. Pity, because it could have provided a much-needed narrative shake-up, to move the story along.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Alex on February 27, 2003
Format: Paperback
This is one of the funniest books I have ever read and I've been reading since 1964. What it lacks in profundity if makes up in snobery. I first stumbled across this author with an engaging story called "The Quantity Theory of Insanity" so I knew he had a sense of humor. But "Great Apes" is unequaled. If you have a scientific education or you enjoy a good vocabulary and convoluted parody I couldn't recommend a better book. Get a used copy and laugh your scrag off. You won't be dissapointed. You might also like "Jesus Mary Delahunty" by David MacSweeney.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By James J. Lippard on December 19, 2002
Format: Paperback
My wife bought this book for me because she liked the cover. I like it too, and think it looks rather like a simian Duane Gish (of the Institute for Creation Research)--do a Google image search and you'll see what I mean.
I don't think, as one reviewer wrote here, that the Zack Busner character is particularly based on Freud. There is evidence early on that he is at least partially based on Oliver Sacks (his list of publications in the world of chimps has titles very much like those of Sacks' books, and his intimate relationships with his patients are similar to Sacks' style).
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Stone Junction on September 13, 2000
Format: Paperback
I approached GREAT APES with some degree of trepidation. It really was the cover that drew me in, the subtle photo blend of monkey and man which resulted in a visage not unlike that of my grandfather's. But the plot? Chimps in place of humans? It's been done before, and resulted in Charleton Heston's least annoying performance (I'm referring to the movie adaptation of PLANET OF THE APES, if it escaped your attention). Let's face it, once Heston has been affiliated with a subject, it's best just to lie low and hope it goes away.
But GREAT APES is far more than a PLANET remake. GREAT APES, while latching on to the same basic premise, has rethought the whole approach. While PLANET's apes were really humans in every way except appearance, GREAT APES reminds us that the chimpanzee world, in its modes and relationships, is remarkably different that ours. It is the paradox of seeing how ridiculous a chimp society would be, while realizing how silly our own system has become, that makes GREAT APES memorable.
Granted, some readers may be put off by some of the more scatological references and desciptions. Let's face it, any exploration into a society that values the size and swelling of the posterior region is bound to offend some. But those who manage to see beyond the base humour of these sections will find a parallel world of depth and wisdom that is well worth exploring.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Christopher A. Smith on December 1, 2000
Format: Paperback
All of Will Self's works come across as a bit self-congratulatory, which is probably why his short stories/novellas are a somewhat easier to swallow than his novels. Great Apes is no exception. This is a clever novel but it would have worked better as a short story.
That said, Great Apes is entertaining and at times quite funny, as long as you're not squemish. And before you've finished the novel you will likely have learned a bit both about psychology and about primate society. An interesting combination. Another amusing point is seeing characters and events from Self's previous work popping up, but in ape form.
To get to these bright spots, however, the reader has to wade through a fair dose of sophomoric humor and a good deal of unnecessary plot filler. Is it worth it? For those fans of Self's previous work who have a bit of patience, perhaps so. Some of the social commentary in Great Apes works - parallels between human society and the "primitive" apes - but by the time you get to the conclusion you will feel beaten over the head with the novel's symbolism.
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