Erratically civilized – Will Self: “Great Apes”

Erratically civilized – Will Self: “Great Apes”

One day, our human protagonist suddenly wakes up in a carbon-copy of our world – only entirely populated by chimpanzees. Struck with terror, he is taken to a psychiatric ward to be treated for the strange delusion that he is human. Any reader expecting him to fight back and return to his true human self is sorely disappointed, as he is ever so gradually integrated into chimp society – until the final, (anti)climactic scene, where he has fully come to terms with the bizarre role reversal between humans and apes.

Self’s book is an uncomfortably precise satire on the nature of civilisation. The chimps inhabit a perfectly recognizable (though ever so slightly scaled down) version of London, but retain disturbing chimp behaviours: Brutal expressions of dominance, (literal) ass-kissing, and random, promiscuous sexuality – in chimp society, children are considered abused if their parents haven’t had sex with them.

The book is an impressive piece of work – tongue in cheek it evokes a world turned upside-down. Self’s notoriously overwhelming vocabulary mixes with perfect neologisms – in the chimp world, you can “foot” something as well as hand it – into a narrative that is both deeply unsettling and darkly hilarious.

The Audible audiobook version is impeccably narrated by John Lee -perfectly mastering the delicate balance between high-brow prose and simian grunts.

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