The Sweet Smell of Psychosis: A Novella

Will Self

Published by Grove Press, 1999
ISBN 10: 0802136478 / ISBN 13: 9780802136473
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Synopsis: A brief and brilliant satire of magazine hacks and fashionistas, The Sweet Smell of Psychosis shows Will Self - a writer acclaimed as "a masterly prose-maker" by London's Sunday Times - at the top of his form. It looks as if it's going to be quite a Christmas for Richard Hermes, powdered with cocaine and whining with the white noise of urban derangement. Not so much enfolded as trapped in the bosom of the most venal media clique in London, Richard is losing it on all fronts: he's losing his heart to Ursula Bentley, a nubile and vacuous magazine columnist; he's in danger of losing his job at the pretentious listings magazine Rendezvous; he's losing his mind courtesy of Colombia's chief illegal export; and, worst of all, he's losing his soul ... to Bell. Bell is a newspaper columnist, radio host, television personality - but more than that, he is the kingpin guiding the ship of media scandal through the lower depths. From his headquarters in the Sealink Club he pulls the strings that control the disseminators of drek and gatherers of glib. And he has had Ursula Bentley and just about everyone else, female and male. As Richard pursues the Jicki perfume wafting from Ursula, he is in fact being drawn into a much more sinister web. Murky, paranoid, and hilarious, The Sweet Smell of Psychosis is Will Self at his best.

Review: The Sweet Smell of Psychosis (very loosely based on Alexander Mackendrick's searing '50s movie Sweet Smell of Success) is the kind of mordant fable that Will Self could toss off in his sleep. But although it doesn't stretch Self's considerable talents, it is still a wonderfully poisonous entertainment.

Richard Hermes is a tiny cog in the London media machine, a hack whose only distinction is a tenuous position at the edge of the most powerful clique in town. At its heart is the loathsome Bell, a sort of malevolent anti-Oprah whose media omnipresence has given him enormous power.

...one of Bell's most sycophantic acolytes had established--through certain arcane statistical computations--that there must, logically, be at least two hundred thousand people in Britain who did nothing else but listen to Bell's voice, watch Bell's face, or read his words, for every waking hour of their lives.
Richard is drawn deeper into Bell's web in pursuit of the gorgeous Ursula Bentley, but he can't keep up with the clique's colossal appetite for controlled substances. He soon begins to slide into drug-addled madness, and Self once again demonstrates his uncanny ability to render altered states in perfectly crafted prose. In fact, much of the pleasure that The Sweet Smell of Psychosis has to offer comes not from the story of Richard's inevitable fall, but from Self's deft and playful way with words. Few writers in English are able to use such beautiful language to describe the most revolting things. Whether he's writing about an excruciating hangover or Bell's naked body ("each pap sporting a twistle of black, black hair",) Self's decadent language begs to be savored, even read out loud. Martin Rowson, the Hogarth to Self's Swift, provides some remarkable illustrations to accompany the text. Rowson's work (most recently showcased in his comic-book version of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman) is grim and shadowy, but filled with detail and twisted humor. Together, he and Self have created an elegant billet-aigre to London's dark underbelly, a cautionary tale that takes pleasure in its own unpleasantness. --Simon Leake

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Title: The Sweet Smell of Psychosis: A Novella
Publisher: Grove Press
Publication Date: 1999
Binding: Paperback
Book Condition: Used: Good

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