Organic intellectual

<strong>Liver: a Fictional Organ with a Surface Anatomy of Four Lobes</strong>
<em>Will Self</em>

Self’s latest volume of high-concept fiction comprises four short stories, or “lobes”, loosely connected by the Plantation Club – a decaying Soho drinking hole.

In the opening piece, the club’s members undergo a hideously slow alcoholic gavage – the process by which foie gras is produced – and lurch towards their inevitable, but still surprisingly horrible, end. The second story is about an elderly woman with terminal liver cancer who travels to Zurich for euthanasia, but finds her illness is miraculously cured; the third retells the myth of Prometheus, with a London ad exec in place of the Titan; and the last describes an afternoon with a group of junkies as an inverted whodunnit (a whogetsit?), from the perspective of the murderer – hepatitis C.

In other words, Self is as inventive as ever. He is also meticulous in his descriptions (of, say, euthanasia or shooting up) and his observations can be devastatingly sharp. For example, on the “creeping normalcy” of a slow death: “despite the black abyss being clearly in view, there was still this cup of tea at hand . . .” Liver never quite feels like more than an intellectual exercise, however. The stories are bilious, but what they lack is heart.

This article first appeared in the 06 October 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Perils of power