Since 2003, Will Self has been using “PsychoGeography”, his column in the Independent, to mull over various adventures: a rainy day in Rio spent reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, a stoned drive through Morocco, a trip to a sportswear shop in Brixton. This anthology also includes an extended essay called “Walking to New York”, which reflects on his journeys to and from Heathrow and JFK airports, as well as his dual American-British identity.
Newspaper columns are often too formulaic to work well bundled together, but Self’s themes vary from travel anecdotes to the more nebulous matter of the black cloud that appeared over London after the explosion at Buncefield oil depot in 2005. Interspersed with Ralph Steadman’s brilliant, spattered illustrations, the essays are a showcase for Self’s poetic but tart style.
The longer essay in which Self explores his own connections with London and New York is less engaging: for example, there seems to be no reason, beyond name-dropping, for telling us that Antonio Carluccio is a “friend of a friend”. His descriptions of “five-storey mounds of trash” in uncharted suburban America are better, but Self seems less satisfied: “No one walks through east New York, I’m forced to conclude, because it’s so fucking dull.”