Prophet and Loss
London cabbie Dave Rudman is an obsessive bloke driven mad by divorce and the loss of custody of his son. Determined to bequeath something to his progeny, Dave composes a sprawling, manic treatise on sexual politics, calling for the mandatory divorce of mothers and fathers with evenly split child custody. He buries the text in his ex-wife's garden for his son Carl to find. Unearthed after a great flood 500 years later, Dave's raving tome becomes the sacred epistemological text for the Hamsters, inhabitants of the Isle of Ham, part of the archipelago that is now post-apocalyptic England. Theirs is a world codified by the bitter misogyny of this long-dead taxi driver. The iconography and vocabulary of Dave's life reappear in the future as superimposed metaphor and interpolated cockney text-message-speak: The deity Dave sees all in his rearview, and the great foglamp in the sky illuminates the kingdom by day until replaced by the starry dashboard of night.
Will Self's satire is thorough and multi-layered, reaching far beyond a simple skewering of the arbitrary nature of the sacred. Alternating between the future Ham and Dave's London provides plenty of deferred comedy (in Hamster lingo, a fare is the soul of a believer, a Lawyer is a rich dad, and irony is the all-purpose word for metal) while simultaneously drawing solemn attention to the weight of our own historical footprint.
The cabbie prophet's ramblings spawn myriad sects of dävinity, each the purported arbiter of Dävine law. Facing religious persecution, the Hamsters struggle to rewrite the past while Dave hopes to recover his future. Both find that received wisdom is a palimpsest to be revised.
The Book of Dave
By Will Self
Bloomsbury, 496 pp, $24.95
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