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Liver: A Fictional Organ with a Surface Anatomy of Four Lobes Hardcover – October 27, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The reliably diabolical Self delivers four longish stories about decay, debauchery and deliverance, each at least tangentially related to London's Plantation Club. In Foie Humain, the Plantation Club is revealed to be a Soho drunkard's institution forever lost in the foggy forties and frequented by a crew of brash boozehounds. Among them, Isobel, the daughter of the protagonist of Leberknödel, Joyce Beddoes, who, stricken with nausea, sickly-sour and putrid; a painfully swollen belly and a hot wire in her urethra, ventures with Isobel to Zurich for an assisted suicide. Self's wry humor takes Joyce on an unexpected adventure as her cancer-ridden liver leads her from Birmingham to Switzerland and into a mess of religious intrigue. The same wit, and a mess of the Plantation's peripheral characters, continues through two more tales, Prometheus, about a London advertising executive whose liver is nibbled upon daily by a vulture in exchange for bigger pitches with bigger spends, and Birdy Num Num, the least exciting of the collection, which follows a gaggle of junkies. Despite the occasional hiccup, Self's parts function quite well together to produce a picture of putrid beauty. (Nov.)
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In his latest collection, Self again writes of drug addiction and egos and the destruction of the titular organ.... Each story has a distinctive voice--Self employs linguistic bravado in all. (Library Journal)

Wit, furious energy, an idiosyncratic intellect and ornate, often strong language mark this British writer's darkly offbeat fiction... Brilliant and blistering. (Kirkus Reviews)

Will Self is rightly admired for the sheer energy of his writing, his pyrotechnic wit and wordplay, and his willingness to experiment with genre and narrative...He is undoubtedly one of contemporary literature's showmen. (Sunday Times (UK))

Self writes with more energy than any other living British writer. 'Leberknödel' (liver dumplings), is outstanding...the work of a writer at the peak of his power. Self reveals himself to be a naturalist manqué a tradition that runs from Marlowe, Milton and Blake. (Daily Telegraph (UK))

Peculiar, subtle, affecting and humane... It is a vertiginous, swooping vision that can lay London out like a body... It is all tremendous fun, and sometimes much more than that. Self has always had a blunt brilliance... These stories are busy with stylistic experiment, high-concept in-jokes, verbal impasto and flights of fancy which test the limits of narrative. (Guardian (UK))

All of Self's hallmarks are in place here: a prose style that scuds from the slangy to the hypertrophic and back; a keen sense of place; a sharp satirist's eye coldly cast on fashionable London; and a fondness for what might be called the High Concept (Times Literary Supplement (UK))

As the literary equivalent of Francis Bacon, Will Self continually challenges readers with biological overload... What counts most throughout is Self's enthralling, muscular and sometimes even joyous use of language. His writing propels one of the greatest arguments for freedom of speech that I can think of; you may not like his subject matter but his obsidian brilliance is incontrovertible, shocking and humane (Independent (UK))

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (October 27, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596916648
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596916647
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,064,473 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Dogberry on January 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover
A book with a single internal organ as its unifying theme. Excellent. I double-dog dare you to find a likable character in this collection of stories; I sure couldn't do it. The book, on the other hand, I liked- a lot. Will Self makes painfully clear how he feels about the human condition. We are gluttons, slowly poisoning ourselves with various toxins . . . er, intoxicants, and we are not terribly kind to those around us, and most notably to those closest to us. Each story has its own unique twists and turns. The first story puts us in a seedy bar in London, the smell of which nearly rises from the page. We are introduced to a sorry lot of lifelong (until death) patrons, each on his on leg of the journey to death by alcohol. The second story is about a woman dying of cancer who is suddenly cured just as she has chosen to end her own life. How will she treat this gift? Mad Men meets mythology in modern day London in "Prometheus." The final story reminds us that alcohol and cancer are not the only things that destroy the human liver. Here we meet addicts swirling down their own chosen drain. Will there be redemption? What do you think?

Self is obviously a bright man, and I'm certain that I missed a number of references and metaphors in Liver, still, I think this one is a keeper.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By BeachWriter on December 23, 2009
Format: Hardcover
When I was a child, liver was widely promoted as an essential food for growing bodies, full of iron and other nutrients. My mother, wanting the best for her family, dutifully served us liver at least monthly. This was in the "clean your plate or else" era, and some nights I would be left sitting at the dinner table for an hour after the rest of the family had departed, facing a plateful of cold liver.
Needless to say, I never developed a taste for liver, but I have acquired a strong liking for Will Self's new book, Liver: A fictional Organ with a Surface Anatomy of Four Lobes. The four lobes in this case are four exquisitely crafted stories, loosely connected to one another through the Plantation Club, a seedy bar in London's Soho district.
In the first story, Foie Humain, we meet the bar's regulars: Val Carmichael, the filthy-mouthed proprietor, who uses a four-letter synonym for female genitalia like an accent mark over almost every other word he utters, and who bestows upon his regulars the nicknames by which we get to know them; Pete Stenning, "Martian," a printer known for his greenish hair; Dan Gillespie, "the Poof;" Neil Bolton, "the Extra," an actor once admired on the West End and in Hollywood; Philip McCluskey, "His Nibs," a tabloid columnist with a choirboy face, "celebrated on Fleet Street for the McCluskey Manoeuvre, which consisted of putting his drunken hand up a young woman's skirt, then falling unconscious with it clamped, vice-like, around her knickers;" Trouget, "the Tosher," a world-famous painter who had become cult figure; and Hillary Edmonds, the bar boy whose duties include serving as Val's companion outside of working hours.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By gonzobrarian on December 7, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Will Self's story cycle "Liver" is definitely anything but a celebration of such a crucially important component of the body. Rather, his surface anatomy of four lobes is a dissection of the extent to which the organ is neglected, abused and in a permanent state of decay. Nay, Liver is not necessarily about the liver at all, but instead a survey of the bilious, fetid human condition; the organ itself is the link that connects the lobules of each character into one stinking gestalt of unpleasantness that, Self stresses, is born completely voluntarily.

Excruciating detail is the rule for this story cycle. The epicenter concerns particular emphasis upon the Plantation Club, a highly distinguished fellowship devoted to the gavage of willfully force-drinking their on-coming death. Secondly, the sojourn of a cold, cancerous woman to Switzerland and her assisted deathbed, though ever unsure whether she will be cured either of her ailment or pestilential daughter. Third, a revisit to the tale of Prometheus, where his daily grind as a highly ambitious advertising agent necessitates the acceptance of a large bird of prey. Though not to be outperformed, finally, by the surprisingly cogent narration of unlikeliest protagonists, observing and deliberating upon an evening soiree of intermingling junkies.

Self doesn't as much tell stories as he unleashes a highly colorful stream of consciousness, or unconsciousness if you prefer, among his characters and setting, which predominantly consists of the alleys of unkempt London. His rich vocabulary is a gavage unto itself, deliciously force-feeding the reader with "the chronic, the progressive, and the degenerative - a bit like civilization" as he will emphasize.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It takes some effort to read Will Self, whose expansive vocabulary and dense narrative style challenges readers to get through even a single page without reaching for the dictionary. "Liver" is in many ways a typical Self book, graced by irretrievably graceless characters bringing ruin to their already ruined lives. But what sets this book apart from some of his others is the way it incorporates the most serious of pathos (the story "Leberknodel") alongside pure farce (the story "Premoetheus"), while maintaining a credible link between them. I was introduced to Self many years ago through the books "My Idea of Fun" and "Great Apes", which despite their complex and cerebral constructions still felt like extended jokes to me. Then I read "How The Dead Live," and felt wholly unprepared for the drama and poignancy Self was so clearly capable of producing. "Liver" is a collection of four stories nominally connected to one another, each allowing Self to present a different side of his sneeringly omniscient narrator's perspective, and what impressed me most was the apparent ease with which he could switch from dark comedy to dark drama. I particularly enjoyed the first two stories in the collection. "Foie Humain" may be a veiled commentary on the innate cruelty of humankind, but it works as an ensemble character study, a dynamic damning of group dynamics. Followed by the previously mentioned "Leberknodel", whose tone, style and subject matter are so completely different, the book could have stopped there and still have been a potent literary accomplishment.Read more ›
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