In interviews about this book Self has occasionally overplayed the way in which contemporary British novelists have forsaken modernism’s promise for the tidier constructs of realism. The bigger question is whether modern British novelists have forsaken the types of characters for whom modernist representations of consciousness are appropriate.
In this sense, “Umbrella” is a triumph of form being used to give readers access to a world — and a woman — that is fractured, both inside and out. “The day is an elegant parasol tasselled with clouds,” Self writes, describing Stanley at war. “[T]he night an umbrella with starry holes torn in its cover.” With this magnificent novel Will Self reminds that he is Britain’s reigning poet of the night.
John Freeman is the editor of Granta and the author of “The Tyranny of E-mail.”